AG Hopefuls Square Off at Center

Five Democrats appear before a crowd made up of gay party activists

In spirited presentations March 28 at the LGBT Community Center, five of the six Democratic candidates for state attorney general offered their visions for the office and the background they bring to the task.

While all of the men seemed to agree that this year’s primary fight offered voters an abundance of good choices, each delivered his pitch with a logic that offered clear distinctions—at times subtle, at others less so—from the others with whom they are fiercely contesting the September 12 Democratic primary.

The evening was organized by Greater Voices, the citywide coalition of gay Democratic and nonpartisan political clubs.

Sean Patrick Maloney, an investigative attorney with experience in financial and corporate oversight who also spent three years at a top White House aide to Bill Clinton, emphasized this year’s “extraordinary opportunity to redefine what Democrats stand for.”

“If all we accomplish is to win power, if all we accomplish is to take back offices that the other guys have held, and if we don’t get into to offering a vision of what can be better and what can be different then we will have missed an historic opportunity,” Maloney, a gay father of three children he adopted with his partner of 14 years, told the crowd.

Maloney also talked about how the job of attorney general “sits at the intersection of” the primary areas of his career experience—his investigatory work, his public policy achievements, and his tenure running a financial industry software firm. His campaign takes direct aim at “the MTA and the other public authorities that are stealing us blind” and “the pay to play culture in Albany” that favors well-connected lobbyists over the public interest.

Charlie King, who currently runs a non-profit housing agency in the city and has twice run for lieutenant governor, began his presentation by saying, “You need to select somebody that feels the issues that you believe in in the very fabric of their being , in their DNA.” He illustrated his commitment to social justice by discussing his work as a pro bono attorney who defended those arrested during the October 1998 Manhattan vigil for Matthew Shepard and worked to bring “those police officers who did riot” to justice.

King also contrasted his record with Andrew Cuomo’s 2002 run for governor and Mark Green’s 1998 bid for the Senate, saying that he is the only candidate to have run a statewide race while supporting same-sex marriage rights. He recalled how that stance prompted a man in Niagara County in 1998 to spit at him, but said his perspective was shaped by his own experience as an African-American man in a biracial marriage.

Veteran Westchester Assemblyman Richard Brodsky acknowledged that he does not have the “celebrity” of three of his opponents—Cuomo, Green, or Republican Jeanine Pirro, the former Westchester D.A.—but argued that endorsements made based on name recognition represent “lousy politics and not the kind of values-based decision that a lot of us expect progressive communities to engage in.”

Brodsky said he takes “second place to no one” on the issue of trying to clean up the corruption and waste endemic in New York’s elaborate network of public authorities—an issue that has been central to Maloney’s campaign as well. Both in terms of legislation written and lawsuits successfully pursued, he said he has been a consistent thorn in Republican Governor George Pataki’s side.

In a race where all six candidates support same-sex marriage, Brodsky suggested that he might have outflanked the position taken by current Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who supports gay marriage but has as well defended the current state law in court.

“I think Eliot chose—and this is one of the areas I disagree with him on—not to offer an opinion on the implication of the equal protection clause on [the state marriage] statutes. I think they are violative of the equal protection clause… So I would have said that,” Brodsky stated, though he fell short of saying that he flat out would have refused to defend the state position in court.

Green, the former city public advocate who narrowly lost the 2001 race for mayor, argued that having been “a people’s lawyer for 35 year is the best qualification to be the people’s lawyer as attorney general,” and cited decades of work as an advocate, plaintiff, author, and elected official standing up to everyone from Richard Nixon to Rudy Giuliani and former Police Commissioner Howard Safir.

Green specifically pointed to battles against Giuliani’s early plans to dismantle the Division of AIDS Services that offered people living with the virus expedited, one-stop government assistance; against price gouging by pharmaceuticals on critical HIV drugs; against tobacco advertising targeting children; and to force the NYPD to release statistics on disciplinary action against cops found guilty of misconduct against civilians.

Saying the battle against abuses by public authorities would not be his “first priority,” Green said that he wants to be “the sheriff of healthcare.”

Green also addressed concerns that he has lost a number of key political races, saying, “Some say I am a perennial candidate. That’s half right. I am a perennial advocate.”

Cuomo, the son of the former governor, who served as secretary of housing and urban development under Clinton, specifically contrasted himself with Green’s self-styling, saying he aimed to be “not just your advocate, not a mouthpiece, but someone who gets results.”

“I’m the only candidate with federal, state, and local experience,” Cuomo said, pointing to his involvement with his father’s 12-year gubernatorial tenure. Integrating themes emphasized by Maloney, King, and Brodsky, the former housing secretary said that “fixing the most dysfunctional state government in America,” attacking “a culture of dysfunction,” and waging a “crusade for social justice” were his key priorities.

Cuomo talked about how his HUD staff of 12,000 was 12 times the size of the attorney general’s—and that the budget was 60 times bigger. He pointed to his success in doubling the budget for the Housing for People With AIDS program that provides shelter to 55,000 Americans. And in explaining that he favored civil unions in 2002 rather than marriage only because that “was what could be achieved,” Cuomo compared his commitment to gay marriage today to his past high profile advocacy for Rockefeller drug law reform and against the death penalty.

Denise O’Donnell, the sixth Democratic candidate, a former U.S. attorney from Buffalo, was scheduled to appear but had to cancel at the last minute.

Amidst the general kind words each candidate had for his opponents, Brodsky said that all six should appear on the primary ballot—an outcome that will rely both on decisions made at the State Democratic Convention in May and on the success of any candidates eliminated then to successfully petition during the summer to be put on regardless.

Yet there were tensions. King, who was visibly suffering from a cold, opened his presentation by saying, “My guard is down a little bit. My good friend Mark Green that I’m running against… we find out that in an internal memo [of Green’s] that I have a zero chance to win—which set me off a little bit today.” As he was winding down his remarks, Green arrived, and King took the chance to repeat his complaint.

In turn, Green, when he began talking, emphasized that the memo had never been intended for public release and predicted that he and King would “be good friends again tomorrow.”

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