It really would be a shame if our next New York State Attorney General doesn’t investigate the misconduct of state officials with respect to Atlantic Yards and the associated abuses of eminent domain there and elsewhere in New York State. And it will be a glorious new day if they do investigate and bring the powers of that office to bear on those problems. And wouldn't it be extremely unfortunate if we were to get a new state attorney general who doesn’t even understand or care about the issue?
For this reason our Noticing New York advice is that voters should vote tomorrow to award Eric T. Schneiderman the Democratic nomination for Attorney General.
If the conventional wisdom is to be believed the race for the nomination has now come down to a contest between Mr. Schneiderman and Kathleen Rice. (See: As Primaries Draw Near, Ads Take on Sharp Tone, By David W. Chen, September 12, 2010.) The perception is that Mr. Schneiderman has the momentum to defeat Ms. Rice who otherwise could likely win. The reason you have to pay attention to who is ahead is because this is a multiple candidate election and we don’t have a system of instant run-off elections so if you don’t put your vote behind the best candidate who can take the lead the state could easily wind with the candidate least representative of the qualities the voters find attractive about the overall field of candidates. We could wind up with the least qualified, least desirable candidate. In our opinion, Ms. Rice is the candidate who shares the fewest of the desirable qualities than can be applauded in the other four candidates.
Schneiderman vs. Rice on Atlantic Yards and Eminent Domain Abuses
We are actually quite happy to vote for Mr. Schneiderman. As we reported previously, in May Mr. Schneiderman offered to investigate projects like Atlantic Yards and eminent domain abuse. (See: Friday, May 28, 2010, Touchstone For Whether There Will Be Change In Albany: Attorney General Candidates on Atlantic Yards and Eminent Domain.)
Part of what he said is as follows:
I don’t have objections to the concept of eminent domain but that’ s supposed to be for the public good. That’s like if you have to build a bridge between two communities that will benefit people you know you may have to take some land. The idea was not to get land so someone can build a megadevelopment for a shopping mall or something else. This is just completely out of balance. Now if I’m in the Attorney General’s office- - * * * The next Attorney General’s ability to move program bills which is part of the Attorney Generals’ function, is going to be greater than it’s ever been, or been in recent history. This last year is the first year since 1937 that the Democrats have held the assembly and the senate so our opportunity to enact reform is new. I would move program bills to correct this and I would enforce them rigorously. Also, the Attorney General can also just conduct investigations into the way these projects are carried out. Because even if they are technically complying with some of the laws I assure you that there are other issues that can be raised by an attorney general willing to take a look aggressively at the way these folks are proceeding.Yes, other of the candidates like Eric Dinallo have said that the State Attorney General should be taking significant actions that would curb the kind of abuses at Atlantic Yards. Yes, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, also a candidate for the nomination, investigated analogous abuses in connection with the financing of Yankee Stadium and since May we have heard him strengthen his statements about investigating the Atlantic Yards abuses. But of everything we have heard Mr. Schneiderman’s statements were the strongest and most encouraging.
By contrast, here from our May story is the gist of what Kathleen Rice had to say about eminent domain.
. . . there has to be a balance, the balance of development vs. the interest of the community. And the Attorney General comes out on the side of advocating for. . . supports the community advocating for themselves. And I think that that’s the issue here because I think this is a very touchy issue here, with everything going on in Brooklyn and all around the city and we deal with it too in Nassau County. So again: It’s a balance and that’s the job of the Attorney General, to advocate on behalf of people in situations like this. And that’s what I would do.In other words, Ms. Rice expressed the same kind of pious platitudes about eminent domain usually used by those politicians who actively support but gloss over its abuse. If anything, her platitudes are a shade weaker than the conventional catch phrases. The faint understanding of the issue reflected by what more she had to say as quoted in our article in May is similarly damning.
Maybe Atlantic Yards and questions about eminent domain are not the only way you would like decide who you want to vote for tomorrow. If you would like to hear what the candidates have to say for themselves in the debates that led up to the primary we can give you the following links:
WABC Debate - July 16, 2010
Rochester: WXXI - August 31, 2010
Albany: WAMC - September 1, 2010
NY1: - September 7, 2010
WNYC - September 08, 2010
The debates are all remarkably consonant with and similar to each other. If you wanted to pick just one to watch and listen to we would suggest the NY1 debate. It’s available on video and runs an hour and a half, while some of the others run only an hour. Held late in the campaign it is also a debate where all the candidates come across at their best, operating on all cylinders and the confidence and ease of the novices has grown.
We will suggest, however, that you don’t really need to listen to debates. We can tell you what you probably need to know about their essence: They all give you the same sense of what is at issue, that Albany needs to be changed. What is discussed as relevant to the issue of change is pretty much the same.
The candidates have discussed whether the Attorney General always has the freedom to investigate politicians for at least certain public integrity issues and whether in some cases it would require the Governor signing an Executive Order granting the general power to pursue such prosecutions. (This is something advocated by Mr. Dinallo. Mr. Dinallo argues that Schneiderman would have a conflict of interest in investigating the legislature. Schneiderman argues that he has already been willing to take on investigations of those within his own party and cites his chairing of the committee that expelled fellow state senator Hiram Monsurate from the state senate. Ms. Rice quarrels with this asserting that his doing this did not constitute courageously initiating an investigation, only picking up after a conviction). All the candidates say they could accept an endorsement from Andrew Cuomo as the Democratic candidate for governor without being precluded from investigating Cuomo as an elected governor afterwards. Sean Coffey says that in such an investigation he would follow the facts of such an investigation wherever they might lead. The candidates have discussed and were somewhat at odds over whether Cuomo as the current Attorney General should have recused himself from investigating David Paterson, our current Governor. Schneiderman says he thinks that Cuomo did not need to recuse himself. Brodsky promotes his public authorities reform as the single largest reform recently to date. In other words, there was much about those in elected office investigating the misconduct of colleagues and other state officials.
There was also talk about where Ms. Rice is coming from and her ambitions versus her political principles. It was pointed out that this race is Rice’s third race for office in five years, but before that she didn’t bother to vote at for 18 years. It was also pointed out that she has accepted money from Assembly Speaker Sheldon’s Silver’s law firm and aligned herself with political boss Assemblyman Vito Lopez. For more of a critique on Ms. Rice’s ambitions see: Winning a Tough Image, Prosecutor Gains Critics, by Nicholas Confessore, September 8, 2010.
Finally there was much discussion about how any of these candidates can bring about Albany reform to the extent that they are already part of the current system, are already Albany insiders, are already making deals to get endorsement and already accepting campaign contributions with a pay-to-play tinge.
Didn’t We Cover This All by Focusing on Atlantic Yards?
To get a feel for all of these issues we still feel that best touchstone is Atlantic Yards and the hard questions that can be asked about the specifics that come to light when that is given focus. That includes the fact that Andrew Cuomo, our current state Attorney General and presumptive governor-to-be, has taken and not returned campaign contributions from Forest City Ratner, the developer of Atlantic Yards notwithstanding requests that he take action with respect to the megadevelopment. (At an event not long ago one of his campaign representatives explained that the contributions did not need to be returned because of the timing of their acceptance!)
We therefore suggest that the best way to get a feeling for what the candidates might do in terms of cleaning up Albany (a better feel than you will get listening to the debates) is to read our earlier article that uses Atlantic Yards and eminent domain abuse as a touchstone. We think that when you have duly considered the matter you will vote Eric Schneiderman especially when you consider that he seems to be the one with the momentum necessary to defeat Kathleen Rice.