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BY HEATHER DUBIN | Cathy Guerriero says her run for public advocate is 20 years in the making. Although she has never held public office, Guerriero’s charisma and aggressive campaign style have brought a fresh perspective to the political arena.
An educator, she said her fervor is fueled by the desire to represent the working class of New York. In that vein, education, small businesses and unions are her top issues.
In a recent telephone interview, Guerriero recalled the beginning of her political quest. When she was 21 years old, a professor asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up. Guerriero said she wanted to run the city. Her professor replied, “ ‘Good luck with that, kid, and it would be nice if you actually knew something.’ That stopped me,” Guerriero recalled.
Since that conversation, Guerriero, who lives in the Seward Park Co-op on Grand St. on the Lower East Side, has been working to prepare for what she says is the only job she has ever wanted.
“I come from a working-class family,” she said. “I was kind of smart, a great ball player, and the homecoming queen. It doesn’t really add up, to know how to serve,” she admitted of her aspiration to becoming public advocate.
Along the way to her breakout political moment, Guerriero has worked at nonprofits, earned a Ph.D. in education administration and is currently a consultant for small businesses and nonprofits.
One of her jobs was with the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, where she was the director of strategic planning under Cardinal Edward Egan. Guerriero was responsible for organizing Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Manhattan.
“I was able to get hundreds of thousands of Catholics in and out of New York City in 2008,” she boasted.
She teaches education and politics at Columbia University’s Teachers College and at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education.
“The expert interests of children should be at the center of every conversation,” she said. Guerriero wants to do away with mayoral control of the schools. She claims the achievement gap for children of color has not narrowed over the past 12 years, and that mayoral control has been a failure for the children of New York.
In fact, the outspoken Guerriero is statistically tied for first place in the public advocate race, at least according to her. She has been consistently working hard over the past 15 months in her daily bid for office, and has attended more than 1,000 meetings. Meanwhile, she has also kept up with her university jobs and just finished teaching two classes this summer.
“I wanted to keep that part of my brain running,” she said. “I’m teaching this fall — you have got to keep the lights on.”
She grew up on Staten Island and in Brooklyn. She and her husband have a 3-year-old daughter, and have lived on the Lower East Side for two years.
“This is where I wanted to raise my child,” she said.
She previously lived in Chelsea for eight years.
In her fight to support small businesses, Guerriero will focus on accountability. She claims city agencies excessively fine, even triple-fining, businesses, and she wants to put a stop to it.
Guerriero has secured more than 40 union endorsements and refers to herself as “the unequivocal union candidate.” She hails from three generations of union workers, such as longshoreman and public school teachers, and her six siblings are teachers, firefighters and police officers.
“The importance of the unions coming through, not negotiating [with them] in good faith perhaps may be the most important issue of the mayor’s deal with contracts,” she stated. “I need to hold the mayor’s feet to the fire.”
Her urgency about the issue is personal. Guerriero’s dad worked as a public school teacher by day, and a longshoreman security guard at night.
“My dad worked hard for those pensions. Keep your hand out of my daddy’s pockets,” she declared.
Guerriero prides herself on a direct approach and really listening to people and their concerns. She says this is what has helped her gain many endorsements from faith-based leaders to dozens of unions.
“I exist in the zeitgeist of the New York City working class who are tired of being told that money and power will give someone else power over them,” she said.
Guerriero has run her grassroots campaign with modest means, and refers to it as “a working-class conversation.”
If elected, Guerriero would create a 50-person think tank in the public advocate’s office. She envisions a rotating, unpaid research fellowship for a few months at a time where students would conduct “snapshot studies” on various issues that she can rely on. This would also give her a quick turnaround time to present data to the city on an issue.
“I don’t want to turn the office into an academic space,” she explained, though adding, “I can use this as the lever of power, in a much-maligned and much-confused job.”