Becoming Attorney General

As the election draws near, attorney general candidates look to define themselves with upstate voters. This story was first published in Metroland on October 21st, 2010.

Last week, Democrat Eric Schneiderman spoke in Albany to a crowd of about 30 supporters and union representatives as part of his bid to become New York’s next attorney general.

Schneiderman, a progressive who helped reform the Rockefeller drug laws while in the Senate, received the endorsement of three union representatives and is endorsed by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

Schneiderman’s opponent, Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, who has the Republican nomination and the endorsement of both New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Mayor Ed Koch, has attacked Schneiderman for being close to unions. Both Cuomo and Carl Paladino have said they will take an ax to the budget and that they will likely look for hefty concessions from unions. At the rally, Schneiderman said he didn’t think union workers were looking for special treatment, but that they wanted to be part of a practical solution.

While some see Schneiderman’s agenda as a little more progressive than Cuomo’s, Schneiderman said that their relationship, should both be elected, would be one of cooperation.

“My positions are nearly identical to those taken by Attorney General Cuomo,” said Schneiderman in an e-mail. “I look forward to working with the new governor to reform our state government, protect a woman’s right to choose, and get illegal guns off our streets.”

Meanwhile, Donovan has come under attack for his relationship with Wall Street. The New York Times recently reported that one in every four dollars in Donovan’s campaign coffers came from a single multibillion dollar hedge fund, headed by a man who is a leading and influential defender of Wall Street’s status quo. Donovan has said that he does not want to be the “sherriff of Wall Street,” and Schneiderman attacked him for that.

In an interview, Donovan told Reuters that addressing Wall Street will take caution and that many cases brought against alleged wrongdoing on Wall Street had been overturned.

Donovan’s campaign is painting Schneiderman as an Albany insider who will do nothing to change Albany’s dysfunction.

Donovan has outlined a three-pronged approach to cleaning up Albany. First, he plans on securing unilateral jurisdiction of corruption cases for the attorney general’s office. He also wants to increase the transparency of member items, through which legislators dole out money to nonprofits and other constituents. Lastly, he said he would require legislators to disclose their outside income from any work not related to their legislative duties. “Our public has no confidence when a legislator is voting on a bill, or debating a bill on the floor, whether or not they are representing the interests of the people who elected them, or the interests of their employer or client,” Donovan said in an interview with WMHT.

Schneiderman’s stance on ethics reform revolves around launching public corruption initiatives and being an advocate for public financing of campaigns. Schneiderman has the endorsement of nonpartisan citizen’s groups such as Citizen Action of New York, of which he is a member. Schneiderman also plans to build on initiatives started by Andrew Cuomo, such as “Project Sunlight,” that seek to shed more light on member items in the legislature.

Schneiderman has also announced his intention to go after corporations who conduct hydrofracking in New York state—a procedure that involves injecting a cocktail of chemicals into the earth to break up and release natural gas for collection.

However, the attorney general’s office is also tasked with defending New York state in the inevitable lawsuits that environmental groups will bring once the Department of Environmental Conservation releases its long-awaited environmental impact statement on the practice and the moratorium on hydrofracking is lifted or relaxed. A considerable amount of bureaucratic flexibility will be required of Schneiderman, should he be elected, to defend the state from environmental litigation related to hydrofracking while opposing it himself.

Donovan’s spokesperson released a statement that characterized hydrofracking as an “opportunity” for New York, but one that needs to be undertaken “safely and properly.”

Schneiderman has recently come out in favor of a controversial gun-control strategy known as “microstamping,” which involves marking every firearm manufactured with a microscopic imprint, enabling law enforcement to track any bullet fired back to the weapon. Schneiderman also has the endorsement of Albany’s first ward councilman and gun-control activist Dominick Calsolaro.

Before the race for attorney general, Donovan supported a microstamping bill sponsored by Schneiderman, who he knew could be a potential opponent in the future. Donovan also touts his experience prosecuting gun crimes as the district attorney in Staten Island.

There is concern amongst both parties that their candidates are well-known only in small circles in New York City and do not have much presence upstate. Some fear the election may well be decided by downstate voters.

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About Daniel Fitzsimmons

Staff writer for the Manhattan weeklies Our Town, Our Town Downtown and the West Side Spirit.
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