Jumaane Williams’ controversial views on marriage equality and abortion rights resurfaced in the first public advocate debate Wednesday night, with two of his top challengers trying to pin him down on the hot button issues.
The Brooklyn councilman, who’s considered one of the front runners in the crowded race to become the city’s No. 2 in command, was confronted by former City Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Bronx Assemblyman Michael Blake over his self-styled private belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman and suggestions that fathers are too often excluded from abortion discussions.
Early on in the NY1-hosted debate, Blake questioned why Williams opposes “a woman’s right to choose” and “marriage equality.”
Williams defiantly claimed no one can “point to” any specific instance where he voiced such opinions but wouldn’t directly deny Blake’s assertions.
Apropos of nothing, Williams then fired at Blake, “I’m not as polished as you, and I don’t have the flowery titles that you do.”
Mark-Viverito quickly followed up.
“As a survivor of sexual abuse, as a feminist who strongly believes in a woman’s right to chose,” she said, speaking directly at Williams, “how can I believe as a woman that you’re going to be consistent on these issues?”
Williams commended Mark-Viverito for asking “a very important question” and sought to set the record straight.
“I can say fervently that I don’t only support a woman’s access to abortion,” Williams said. “Any time this has come up in the City Council, I’ve always stood with women.”
Williams added, “My mom and sister probably wouldn’t support me if I didn’t,” drawing an audible sigh from Mark-Viverito.
A staunch progressive on issues like police reform and income inequality, Williams faced similar flak over his past comments on gay marriage and abortion rights during his unsuccessful candidacy for City Council speaker in 2017.
He has maintained his personal views would not influence his actions in public office and has pledged to stand with abortion rights advocates and the LGBTQ community.
Williams, Blake and Mark-Viverito are considered the top contenders for the prestigious public advocate spot, which opened up after Letitia James was elected state attorney general in November.
On stage with the three top contenders Wednesday night were another seven candidates: Councilman Eric Ulrich, the lone Republican in the race, Councilman Rafael Espinal, Assemblyman Ron Kim, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, former Obama administration staffer Dawn Smalls, former investigative reporter Nomiki Konst and Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell.
An additional seven names will be on the ballot when voters head to the polls for the special public advocate election on Feb. 26.
The rest of Wednesday night’s debate saw the candidates finding common ground in their distaste for Mayor de Blasio and his role in the degradation of NYCHA.
“People need to go to jail,” Blake said of what he sees as the de Blasio administration’s failure to root out lead from NYCHA complexes across the city, as first uncovered by the Daily News. “No child should ever have lead in their blood because of mismanagement at NYCHA.”
The candidates also took shots at de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo over the favorable deal given to Amazon in exchange for the retail giant building new headquarters in Long Island City.
Last but not least, candidates expressed frustration over the ever pervasive issue of the city’s faltering subway system and vowed to overhaul the MTA if elected public advocate.