By Rehana Pierre
On April 21, 2015, John Jay hosted a discussion with New York City Public Advocate, Letitia James, in the college’s Moot Court room. The discussion was one of many current and future initiatives for John Jay’s Women in the Public Sector organization.
In a room of about 80 students, faculty, and guests, Advocate James explained her job, future legislation initiatives and her journey to becoming the first African-American woman to hold a city-wide office in NYC.
James, a CUNY Lehman College Alumni, explained that her job as Public Advocate is to be the “city’s watch dog.” She explains the Public Advocate’s office is where the citizens of New York come when they have exhausted all other avenues when dealing with unjust circumstances like unfair wages, slum landlords, and even college sexual harassment.
James explains, “I ran for office because every day New Yorkers don’t have the money for fancy attorneys.” James explained prior to the discussion she went to a hearing to advocate city ironworkers who have been the victims of wage theft from their employers.
During the event, James spoke on her involvement in the Eric Garner appeal process. She has filed an appeal to have the grand jury files reopened in order to understand better how the decision to not indict Officer Daniel Pataleo was made.
James is a graduate of Howard Law School and a former public defender. With this legal experience she drafts legislation and proposals to better assist the unrepresented in NYC. She is working on a program to help the youths aging out of the foster care system, the Priority 7 vouchers for affordable childcare and the body cameras program for the NYPD.
James said the body cameras will allow “transparency and accountability” for both police officers and civilians.
James came to John Jay to express how important it is to get women involved in the public sector. James feels like too many women are involved in “pink collar” jobs, meaning jobs that are always dominated by women and considered feminine jobs.
James encouraged women to push back on the narratives that depict women. “We can’t let someone else to hijack the narrative,” stated James. That’s why she is partnering with other politicians, such Eleanor Roosevelt, on a campaign called Why She Ran.
“Why She Ran” will tell the story of women politicians and why they decided to run for office. When asked why she ran, James answered, in the words of Shirley Chisholm “Someone had to.” In the history of the United States Senate, there have only been 46 female senators out of 1,963 total senators.
“Women hold up the sky,” explained James and that is why she feels women need to get involved in politics. Women are not represented equally in government because there is always a majority of males making decisions for women when women should be making decisions for themselves.
James highlights that it was hard for her to initially raise funds, and she has been discriminated against for being a woman, she explains she made her presence known and erased their doubts with her ability to “make things happen.”
Student Council Secretary, Grace Agalo-Os, said she felt “empowered” by James and all her efforts to change the government, economical and society structures in NYC. “The smallest things can have such a ripple effect on society,” said Agalo-Os.
James ended her discussion reminding students that’s in order to get involved, the best they can do is volunteer. She explained that volunteering is the way you can have the most effect on society.
Timur Insanally, freshman, and student council chief of staff said, “as a freshman, you feel limited and people like Advocate James remind you that you can do more.” Insanally feels that her speech reminded him, “that’s not your limit.”
A female student asked James how she gained respect in politics and she explained that all you have to do is “show them your brilliance.”