BROOKLYN - There’s a new candidate for public advocate.
Siddique Wai is a longtime public servant who presently works closely with Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly on public safety issues and had previously worked with the city’s Housing Authority under Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Over the last 20 years, the Crown Heights resident has engaged in community activism, provided counsel to several mayors and, during troubled times, helped calm tensions in the Big Apple in ways others could not.
That’s because Wai is an immigrant from Africa and a Muslim, and would be the first person with that background to hold a citywide office if he is elected.
He takes seriously the role of the public advocate's office.
“The bureaucracy that ordinary people have to go through to get things done discourages people,” said Wai, who immigrated to New York from Sierra Leone.
“I will take their complaints public, whether it's about police, or fire, or sanitation, and give the mayor or respective agencies 30 days to address them.”
And if they don’t?
“I will utilize skills I obtained in activism and, if need be, lead demonstrations to get things done," he said.
Aggressive talk for a man who is known in some circles as a true healer.
Wai once convened an interfaith religious prayer service in Brooklyn after the police killing of Amadou Diallo that was attended by Giuliani and then-Police Commissioner Howard Safir. He also brought Jews and blacks together after the Crown Heights riots.
But he is made of tough stuff. After all, his efforts during those tumultuous times attracted death threats and sharp criticism from those who preferred to ignite tensions rather than calm them.
Wai enters an already crowded race that includes Brooklyn City Councilwoman Letitia James; Catherine Guerriero, a professor; state Sen. Daniel Squadron and former Deputy Public Advocate Reshma Saujani. He will be among the candidates debating Thursday evening at Queens College.
He hopes to shake up the race in the way former Rep. Anthony Weiner has in the Democratic mayoral primary.
“People may have a higher profile right now and money behind them, but when people look at my background and what I have done, they will see I have already been a public advocate for a long time,” he said.
Wai (pronounced Why) insists he will be an advocate who holds people’s feet to the fire rather than merely spews rhetoric and accomplishes nothing. His motto will be “ACT” — which stands for “Accountability, Collaboration and Transparency,” and he claims he will be a voice for all of New Yorkers.
And he has several novel concepts to accomplish his mission.
On “Stop and Frisk,” he wants to put tiny cameras on cops to record encounters.
He also wants to require contractors for the city to hire a majority of New Yorkers to work on their projects, which was something he accomplished at SUNY Downstate Hospital in the 1980s when he worked as the resident consultant to the hospital's president.
He also expects to take advantage of his heritage to create an International Investment Center to tap into the African continent’s emerging economic power.
“I want to be that bridge to bringing investment dollars here,” he said. “Everyone is trying to do business with Africa now and we should be in the lead.”
He says he will take his office on the road into every community to take the city’s pulse.
A grandfather of two grown women, Wai, 65, has lived in New York for a quarter century.
“This is my home,” he said. “I love this country and this city. And I want to give back.”