BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
On Tuesday morning, the Robert Ross Johnson Family Life Center in St. Albans hosted two Democratic Public Advocate candidates, Reshma Saujani and Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn), whom were each given 30 minutes to explain their platforms and address the issues that were important to them.
Saujani began her speech by sharing the experiences of her family who were refugees from Uganda in 1973. Like many immigrants who fled dictatorships, Saujani’s parents came to America with little money and big dreams.
“They were terrified to come to a country, not knowing the language and not having any family but they survived,” Saujani said. “They fought everyday to make sure that me and my family had the opportunity.”
After much work and commitment, Saujani said she was able to reach her American Dream, eventually becoming a lawyer, and while she said she is grateful for the chances she was given, she said she understands that not everyone is as lucky.
She touted her success as former deputy public advocate under Bill de Blasio, where she fought for the rights of young immigrants by creating the DREAM Fellowship, a program that ensured the hardworking immigrants received scholarships to attend CUNY schools.
Saujani also boasted her work with minority business owners, a group she said was in dire need of assistance and support.
“Half of all small businesses in New York City are owned by immigrant minority entrepreneurs,” she said. “They are not walking into small business solution centers. They have business ideas and business plans but they don’t know who to go to for help.”
As deputy public advocate, Saujani commissioned the first-ever survey and asked these business owners what they needed to be successful. Her work for these entrepreneurs, she said, had even caught the attention of President Barack Obama.
“I was sitting in my office one day and the phone rang and it was President Obama calling me to thank me for the work I had done as deputy public advocate, to create a model that was going to help minority entrepreneurs and to tell me that he was going to take that model and take it all across the country,” she said.
Saujani’s vocal opponent, James, began her speech with a similar tune, noting that she too was not born into a lavish lifestyle. Although the Councilwoman now lives in Brooklyn, her mother was born and raised in southeast Queens.
“I don’t come from wealth and I don’t have any friends on Wall Street. All my life I’ve dedicated to public service,” she said. “All my life I’ve dedicated to improving the lives of individuals who have been ignored.”
James, a former public defender for the Legal Aid Society and former assistant attorney general under Eliot Spitzer, explained that she is not a newcomer to the political sphere and has a number of accomplishments under her belt she believed would be instrumental in the role of public advocate.
“I am the one in Brooklyn who took on a major developer when he wanted to build an arena that would destroy our community – an arena who took homes away from working people,” she said. “I’m the one who was in the forefront of childcare when this administration closed 10,000 childcare slots.”
James, an attorney by trade, also boasted some of the major lawsuits she has brought against the major corporations and City agencies like the NYPD.
“When I was the assistant attorney general, I brought the first case against Delta Funding, a predatory lender than preyed on Blacks and Latinos,” she said. “I was the first individual to sue the NYPD for Stop and Frisk not most recently, but 15 years ago.”
“I am not a newcomer to this,” she added. “If you look at my record, it’s a record of accomplishments. It’s a record of speaking truth to power, even if when I’m alone and I will continue to do that as the next public advocate.”
Reach Reporter Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.