When civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel showed up at his Madison Avenue law office at 9:30 on election night, he rested his hands on the shoulders on his young daughter and told a crowd of disappointed supporters that people had become disenfranchised in the city of New York. “I was at the polling precincts today, and people told me they weren’t planning to even vote,” he said. He blamed the sorry attitude on (who else) Michael Bloomberg, who had torn the fabric of democracy and alienated everyone with his term limits coup.
That may be true, but Siegel never had a real chance of winning the Public Advocate’s race. He’s lost two times before, in ’01 and ’05. That didn’t stop him from running again this year. The former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union currently has a private legal practice, where he does things like sue New York State for allowing Columbia University to take over West Harlem through eminent domain (and petition the federal government to overturn Bloomberg’s term limits overthrow on Voting Rights Act grounds)…
Siegel, who ended up with just over 14 percent of the vote, is the kind of guy who never seems too busy to make time to talk to people, a quality that has endeared him to supporters. He ran a disorganized campaign that had many lofty goals, including promising to do things like using the Public Advocate’s office to help journalists fight their denied freedom of information act requests from city agencies — something that Siegel has done many times in his own lawsuits against the city. (We hope the new Public Advocate, whoever he is, will take a page from Siegel’s book on that issue). There is no question that the veteran attorney would have used the office, which has lost clout in recent years, as a check and balance on the Bloomberg Administration.
Ira Glasser, an old friend and longtime director of the ACLU, summed up Siegel’s predicament like so: “He would have made such a sensational public advocate if he had been elected — except that he can’t seem to get elected.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 16, 2009