At Large Council Candidate in Newark Calls for Creation of Public Advocate in Newark to Serve as Citizen Watchdog

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 07:06 Local Talk News Editor


A former New Jersey Public Advocate who is running for an at-large seat on the Newark City Council is calling for the creation of a public advocate for the city.

Wilfredo Caraballo, who was the state's public advocate from 1990 to 1992, said a public advocate would serve as the watchdog for the citizens of Newark.

"The idea for a Newark Public Advocate came to me while I was out knocking on doors and talking to voters these past few months," Caraballo said. "Time after time, I hear frustration in the voices of our citizens. It's clear that our residents don't believe that they are heard. They have complaints that ring similar to the types of complaints I heard when I was the Public Advocate for the state. They can't get problems solved nor can they get the services to which they are entitled."

Caraballo said a Public Advocate would serve as a member of the mayor's cabinet and have the authority to testify on any bill being considered by the City Council. The Public Advocate would act on behalf of the residents, serving as their eyes and ears within City Hall. The Advocate would also have the authority to conduct investigations initiated by complaints from residents. The Public Advocate would be appointed by the Mayor, with advice and consent of the City Council, for a fixed term of four years. Removal of the Advocate would only be for cause.

Caraballo said the funding would come from money saved by reducing the perks for city council members, including reducing their salaries by 25 percent, eliminating city cars, cell phones and reducing the number of aides assigned to each council member. In addition, he said other functions involving citizen advocacy that already exist in city government could be consolidated under the Office of The Public Advocate.

Caraballo is making his first run for Newark City Council on the ticket of former Assistant State Attorney General Shavar Jeffries. A professor at Seton Hall University School of Law, Caraballo previously served six terms in the state Assembly from 1996 to 2008, rising to the position of Speaker Pro Tempore.

The office of The Public Advocate was eliminated in 1994 under the administration of Republican Governor Christie Whitman. While serving in the Assembly, Caraballo fought to re-establish the office under Governor Corzine only to have it abolished once again by Governor Christie.

"The irony is just as New Jersey was eliminating its Public Advocate, New York City was creating the office," Caraballo said. "If we want a model of what the Public Advocate can do at the city-government level, we can look no further than to New York City, where Bill de Blasio fought to give parents a voice in education and made the city government more transparent."

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