Before 2014, I don’t think I had ever set foot around City Hall (or knew where to point it out on a map). Politics were never “my thing” and I avoided any political journalism assignments at my college newspaper like the plague. Despite catching on to bits and pieces of political facts all throughout my years of public education, I had always written politics off as something I would never understand and never wanted to deal with. This all changed for the better when I served as a press intern for New York City Public Advocate Letitia James last summer.
By the end of junior year, my final summer break was on the horizon and though I had sent out several cover letters and résumés, I had yet to secure an internship. In search of some guidance, I turned to Dr. Patricia Sullivan, the director of the SUNY New Paltz Honors Program and my mentor all throughout college. She suggested I reach out to the Office of the New York City Public Advocate’s Director of Policy Amber Greene. Ms Greene was a New Paltz alumna close to Dr. Sullivan who would know of an open position in the office (hello networking!). Shortly after introducing myself via email, the Public Advocate’s press secretaries reached out to me for an interview. The rest is history.
If there’s one word that accurately describes 21st-century New York City it’s diverse. The people who live here, whether permanently or temporarily, come from all different ethnic, religious, political and cultural backgrounds. Consequently, we broadcast hundreds of television channels, distribute print publications in a plethora of languages, and host a cross section of organizations that represent the wants and needs of the multitudes. In sustaining such a great city comes a great responsibility: ensuring the well-being of these New Yorkers. This is where Public Advocate Letitia James comes in.
According its official website, the Office of Public Advocate for the City of New York is “a citywide elected position in New York City, which is first in line to succeed the Mayor. The office serves as a direct link between the electorate and city government, effectively acting as an ombudsman, or ‘watchdog,’ for New Yorkers by providing oversight for city agencies, investigating citizens’ complaints about city services and making proposals to address perceived shortcomings or failures of those services.”
From late May to early August, my internship gave me great insight on the importance of politicians’ relationships with the people they represent. I interned in the Office of the Public Advocate’s Communications Division alongside Press Secretaries Brendan Brosh and Aja Davis. Whether interning in the office or remotely, my first duty in the morning was to check the News Unit email account for messages from reporters, read an array of morning newsletters and city updates (like City & State), and listen or watch radio/TV clips mentioning Ms. James. Each week presented a new set of tasks and I quickly learned there are hardly any dull moments in New York City government. I set foot on City Hall grounds at least once or twice a week and traveled around New York City to many press conferences, where I provided press releases, gathered journalists’ contact information, took photos, and recorded Ms. James speeches. Since the Public Advocate’s office is right across the street from City Hall, it could be a matter of minutes before reporters published or broadcast their news on Ms. James’ statements.
While at the office, I witnessed Ms. James fight for a variety of causes including increased measures against sexual assault on the subway, calling out the city’s worst landlords, net neutrality (here’s her Huffington Post article on this as well), and saving the Rockaway ferry. She also addressed two especially touching issues: outfitting NYPD officers officers in high-crime precincts with body-mounted cameras following the death of Eric Garner and demanding air conditioning on all buses carrying special needs students, which moved me to tears. In fighting for these and many other causes, the Public Advocate hosted roundtable conversations, met with community members, and supported a variety of community events throughout the city.
One of the most exciting events I got to attend was the 2014 LULAC National Convention, for which I was invited to go to the Women’s Luncheon with Ms. James and the Office’s Director of External Affairs, Sarah Valenzuela. Although I didn’t get to see First Lady Michelle Obama and Jennifer Lopez, who were speakers at the previous day’s luncheon, I was blown away by being in a room filled with such a powerful collective of politicians, corporate investors, media industry leaders, fellow students, and world changers working hard for the betterment of Hispanic life in the United States.
My experience interning in the Public Advocate’s office was simply invaluable. The office culture was always inviting, the staff fostered an inclusive environment for the interns, and Ms. James always thanked me personally for my work. Whether it was coordinating events, gathering clips, preparing press kits or taking notes in a meeting, my role as press intern helped me grow as a strong communicator and critical thinker. I also gained an even more discerning eye for gathering news, perfect for my journalism aspirations. Now that I’ve learned the amount of effort that goes into making even small changes in New York, I have never felt more connected to my city. Ms. James puts in a lot of love into her work and I admire the way the entire office comes together for the common justice of New Yorkers.