N.Y. Attorney General Candidates Make Their Cases

August 16, 2006

The five N.Y. candidates running for state attorney general will get their first chance to introduce themselves to a large number of voters in a statewide town hall meeting and debate this week.

“Right now it means some attention to the race,” said Lee Miringoff, head of Marist College’s Institute for Public Opinion. “This is the race that seems to be the most competitive. It will be a chance to focus on the race and for the candidates to show what they’ve got.”

Four Democrats are vying for the chance to succeed two-term incumbent Eliot Spitzer. They include Andrew Cuomo, the former federal housing secretary; Mark Green, the former New York City public advocate; Charlie King, a former housing official in the Clinton administration; and Sean Patrick Maloney, a former aide to President Clinton.

The winner of September’s Democratic primary will face Republican Jeanine Pirro, the former Westchester County district attorney.

The town hall meeting on Wednesday evening will put candidates before groups of voters in Albany, Syracuse and New York City, all linked and televised. Thursday evening’s Democratic debate, at Pace University in lower Manhattan before an audience of voters, also will be broadcast by Time Warner cable stations, New York 1 TV and several radio stations. Pirro will not take part in Thursday’s debate. Both events start at 7 p.m.

Green said the Democratic primary race “begins in earnest this week.”

“Finally candidates have to come out from behind an entourage and answer questions about their records, accomplishments and agendas,” he said. “Voters can compare candidates without having to go through the filter of spin and spokespeople.”

The attorney general serves as the state’s top legal officer, prosecuting actions on behalf of the state, defending it against lawsuits and defending the constitutionality of state laws. The office also prosecutes consumer protection, antitrust, organized crime and environmental cases.

Spitzer, a Democrat now running for governor, has expanded the office’s reach during his tenure, prosecuting shady deals on Wall Street, the insurance industry and the music business.

Each of the attorney general candidates has made cracking down on Medicaid fraud a priority. The issue has become a political battleground as rising health care costs increase financial strains on local, state, and federal governments. The state Attorney General’s office in March announced its Medicaid Fraud Control Unit recovered $274 million in 2005, compared with $63 million the previous year.

Cuomo, son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, touts his experience rooting out corruption at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton. He has made cracking down on gun violence one of his top priorities and says he would go after corruption in state government.

Green says he would make fighting organized crime and domestic violence two of his top priorities. Green says he would also push for campaign finance reform and continue Spitzer’s fight to regulate power plant emissions. He has also called for the shutdown of the Indian Point nuclear power plants in Westchester County.

King has made education and health care his top priorities. He wants to fight school violence and hold school districts accountable for fraudulent business practices and resource-wasting activities. He says he would ensure that New Yorkers illegally denied care by HMOs or insurers get the health care they are entitled to under the law.

Maloney has gone after the state Public Service Commission in the wake of widespread blackouts in Queens and Staten Island and has taken on the federal government on the issue of wiretapping to fight terrorism. He has also advocated for better policing of the Internet for sexual predators.

Pirro, the Republican, is running on her experience as a prosecutor and judge, focusing on law and order issues such as sexual predators, especially those using the Internet, and expanding the state’s DNA databank. She has recently criticized the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to properly enforce the federal Clean Air Act, mirroring similar stances by Spitzer.

Recent polls show Cuomo leading his three Democratic rivals and Pirro. However, Cuomo’s lead is not a comfortable one, said Maurice Carroll, a former New York political reporter who now heads the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Still, Carroll said it’s unlikely any candidate will gain or lose much ground after the two events.

“It can make a difference, but the chances of one of these four messing up terribly are minimal,” he said. “You have to believe it’s Cuomo’s race to lose.”

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