It’s a long way for City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) to come from Queens to the Connecticut Muffin on Cortelyou Road in Ditmas Park on a cold day, but he’s on a mission to become the next public advocate.
A graduate of Brooklyn’s St. Francis College in 2007, Ulrich, 33, was first elected to the city council in a non-partisan special election in 2009. He quickly established a reputation as an honest, outspoken and independent voice at City Hall.
Ulrich is one of the 10 public advocate candidates, who met the threshold for public campaign financing. He is also the only Republican of the 10, although he is running on the Common Sense Party line in this non-partisan special election on Feb. 26.
In person, Ulrich is personable and well-spoken. The following edited interview took place over coffee.
Kings County Politics (KCP): In large part because of the divisive nature of President Trump, the Republican Party suffered devastating losses in the recent election with both State Senator Marty Golden in Bay Ridge and U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan in Bay Ridge and Staten Island in longtime Republican strongholds. How do you plan to succeed against the Blue Wave in the Public Advocate’s race?
Councilman Eric Ulrich (EU): I’m glad you brought that up because in my last re-election in 2017, I represented a three-to-one Democratic district that has a non-white majority according the census. A vast majority is not white and not Republican and I got 66 percent of the vote so whatever I’m doing as a moderate Republican must be working. I’m getting reelected with great numbers, while some of the other Republicans which represented a much more homogeneous community of similar background or affiliation, they’re not as successful.
I represent people of color. I represent Caribbean and West Indian constituents. More than a third of my constituency is Latino and again whites are the minority. It’s not a antimin for New Yorkers who are common sense to say, ‘We don’t agree with Donald Trump on anything, but when we see a Republican with common sense and who’s a moderate, and who is socially liberal and fiscally conservative, but has some really good ideas then we’re going to give that person a shot.’
In this election, it’s non-partisan and I think people know I’m the only Republican in the race I think that helps me tremendously because people can see me for who I am, and for my own ideas and my own platforms, and they can’t tie me to the policy of President Trump.
KCP: So you didn’t support President Trump?”
EU: I always support the president. I want the president to succeed because when the president succeeds our country succeeds, but at the same time I did not endorse him. I don’t agree with him on many, many issues and I don’t want Donald Trump to be a distraction in this race because the public advocate has very little to do with my core beliefs of small government, lower taxes, school choice, government accountability and small businesses.
Unfortunately, the Republican Party in New York has lost its way and been hijacked by national politics. New York always had a unique brand of Republicans. Rockefeller Republicans, Bloomberg Republicans. George Pataki was a moderate Republican. There is a place in the party for moderates like me, and I’m the one person who will be Mayor de Blasio’s worst nightmare. The one person who will hold him accountable and keep him honest.
KCP: There have been complaints from some candidates about how the Board of Elections printed the ballots so they snake around from let to right on the first line and then from right to left on the a second line…
EU: …All I know is we filed the requisite number of signatures under the election law in a timely fashion. I’m very happy with the ballot placement. I’m fourth on the top row. I think most people coming out to vote on February 26 already know who they are voting for so this obsession on who’s first, who’s last, who’s on the third row, who’s on the second row, I think is misguided. It’s not an issue. People who love Rafael [Espinal], or Jumaane [Williams] or Melissa [Mark-Viverito] and want to vote for them, they will find them on the ballot. They’re not coming to the polls on Feb. 26 undecided. There will be very few undecided votes.
KCP: Many political observers and elected officials see the public advocate seat as a stepping stone to running for mayor or even higher office. Do you have any higher ambitions if you get elected?
If I win the special election for public advocate, I will absolutely run for mayor and I think anyone who says they are not interested in running for mayor are being disingenuous and being dishonest because there is nobody that runs for public advocate to stay public advocate. Some of the other candidates say, ‘No, I’m not running or won’t rule it out at this time.’ Nonsense. Of course they’re running for mayor, and people are saying, ‘Are you going to run for mayor if I win this election?’ You better believe I’m going to run for mayor.
KCP: Do you support the mayor’s plan to do away with the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) to get into the city’s specialized academic high schools?
EU: I support the SHSAT. I think the mayor likes to divide people. Asians and Guyanese in particular are not considered minority, but they make up the majority of the population in some, but not all of these schools. The Asian population is being inflated and it is biased in I think a very divisive way by the administration to say, ‘Look, we have all these Chinese and Korean kids in these specialized high schools and these poor people of color are not represented in Brooklyn Tech and Stuyvesant. It’s simply not true. Now it is true that there are not enough students of color coming from these disadvantaged communities in those schools. Well that’s a failure on the mayor’s part. Why isn’t he putting programs in place in those schools districts where we’re not receiving a lot of applications and preparing them to take the SHSAT’s so they are better equipped to apply and get admitted to those schools.
I think that the test is color blind and I support the test. I think if we need more seats than we need to build more schools. I’m all for expanding the number of specialized high schools so we can offer more opportunities and more seats to all children. I’m for educating all children who are smart and who work hard and play by the rules. We should not punish Asian students. We should not punish Latino students, black students, white students. No students should be punished because of the ethnicity when they work hard and score a certain score. They should be entitled to a seat in a specialized high school and not trapped in one of the mayor’s failing schools.
KCP: Where do you stand on congestion pricing?
I oppose congestion pricing. I think it’s a commuter tax on the outer borough. It will make Manhattan a borough that is only for the rich and the people who can afford to go there. There are decades of under investment and mismanagement with respect to the MTA. That doesn’t mean we should tax people who live in Brooklyn and Queens and Staten island and the Bronx every time they want to drive in Manhattan. That’s not going to reverse the decades of neglect.
Congestion pricing is tax on the outer boroughs. I will not support it. It’s going to hurt working class and middle class people and its going to make Manhattan the place for the people who can afford to be there. It will be like the city of Oz.
KCP: Any final thoughts?
I’m going to win this race. I don’t believe New Yorkers want to give Mayor de Blasio a rubber stamp in the office of public advocate. If New Yorkers love Mayor de Blasio and think he’s doing a phenomenal job then they have 16 other candidates to choose from. If they want someone to be a counter balance, hold his feet to the fire and make sure he’s held accountable and be independent of the mayor then they’re going to vote for me. I think the vast majority of New Yorkers are looking for that, and that’ why I’m running for public advocate and that’s why I think we’re going to win on Feb. 26.