Need help from Public Advocate Jumaane Williams? Good luck with that!
Williams was elected in 2019 to head a $5 million-a-year office that’s supposed to assist New Yorkers with complaints about government-related services and regulations.
But he and his staff have been largely missing in action since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020, with Williams allowing dozens of employees to continue working from home after lockdowns were lifted.
On Tuesday, The Post visited the Public Advocate’s Office in Lower Manhattan and found mostly empty cubicles, with just five workers sitting at their desks out of a staff of 59.
And anyone who tries calling Williams’ main “constituents” line gets a recorded message that says, “Our office is currently working remotely.”
“Due to higher than normal call volume, an associate will respond to your call within three to five business days,” the message adds.
The situation led to outrage on social media, with Jennifer Harris of Victims Rights NY retweeting a photo of Williams at a parade in Queens.
“His staff can’t go to the office but he can go to parades,” Harris wrote, adding sarcastically, “Thank you for your hard work.”
Twitter user “Jean,” who uses the handle @queens_parents, was flabbergasted, responding, “Wait, what? Is Jumanne’s office is still working remotely?”
Williams responded defensively, saying, “Most of these tweets are more about trolling than improvements. In case you actually need help @nycpa office is open daily. It’s on hybrid schedule, something I’ve consistently advocated for where possible. There is a rotating remote schedule to insure office coverage.”
But those claims just incited more fury.
“In the name of being productive and helpful instead of just trolling – how can constituents get in touch with your office for IMMEDIATE attention in urgent situations @JumaaneWilliams?” Harris tweeted.
“Hybrid is fine for private employers. Not for taxpayer funded offices when no one is available to answer the phone and address constituent concerns immediately.”
User “NYC Parent,” whose handle is @nycfreethinker, also piled on, saying, “I never heard back from your office @JumaaneWilliams Not once. But I did get thru to @bradlander office and spoke with staff who were appalled by both of you for trying to mandate covid vax for children to attend school.”
“Shame on you. And this after you got Covid post-vax,” NYC Parent added. “Frustrated citizens who have no recourse but to complain on twitter because they don’t get responses are not trolling. I would’ve loved to get a response from you on why you advocated for covid vax mandates for children when vax doesn’t prevent transmission and there not at risk?”
The Public Advocate’s Office, created in 1993, is widely considered a springboard to bigger and better government jobs, with Williams’ predecessor, Letitia James, now serving as the state attorney general.
Former Mayor Bill de Blasio also used the Public Advocate’s Office to launch himself to City Hall.
“The office is unnecessary. It’s dysfunctional and this proves it,” Councilman Robert Holden (D-Queens) fumed. “They have 59 staffers and no one can answer the phone? No one knows what the public advocate does.”
Guardian Angels founder and 77WABC talk radio host Curtis Sliwa, the 2021 Republican candidate for mayor, said, “I would padlock the office and tell Jumaane to get a real job.”
State Conservative Party Chairman Gerald Kassar also said, “It’s a waste of money. It’s ridiculous. The fact that you don’t have a person who answers the phone just adds insult to injury.”
In a prepared statement, Williams’ office defended its “hybrid” work schedule and automated phone system, saying staffers worked in the office at least two days a week and some of their time “in the field” throughout the five boroughs.
Williams’s office also claimed that it’s easier to log calls through voicemail than by having a worker actually answer the phone.
“Each week we receive constituent cases not only through the hotline but our two constituent services email accounts, walk-ins, and our text line – we take in-person constituent appointments as well,” the statement added.