Attorney General

What You Need To Know About The AG’s Race

New York State voters find themselves within the throes of an election season, as a number of national and statewide races populate the political fabric on all fronts.

While there are many important races to keep an eye on, one in particular should not get overlooked: the race for state attorney general.

Before getting into the candidates, let’s answer the question, ‘What does the attorney general do?’
Simply put, the attorney general is the official lawyer for the citizens of New York state, also fondly referred to as the ‘People’s Lawyer.’

A de facto definition on the office’s website says the attorney general “serves as the guardian of the legal rights of the citizens of New York, its organizations and its natural resources.”

As defender and protector of the rights and interests of the state, the attorney general is similarly no stranger to taking on the federal government. The attorney general also serves as a counsel to the governor, and may be tasked with investigations, and or asked to take on cases at the executive branch’s bequest.
Certain office holders have elevated the role’s profile in years past, and in doing so, simultaneously bolstered their political careers. Eliot Spitzer took on Wall Street corruption, fighting against fraudulent financial schemes, significantly expanding the expectations of what can be expected of the office. Gov. Andrew Cuomo was also the state’s top legal officer, a role that would eventually propel him into the Executive Mansion.
The post’s most recent occupant, Eric Schneiderman, abruptly resigned in May 2017 amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Schneiderman used his position to take on the Trump administration, taking action against policies like the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, arguing that the SALT cap would deliver a devastating blow to New Yorkers.
The job is currently held by Barbara Underwood, the former state solicitor general who assumed the role following Schneiderman’s resignation after being appointed by the Legislature. Underwood declined to run for the post, promising to step down once a candidate is elected.

So who is running?

On the Democratic side, the four contenders include: New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, Hudson Valley Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout and ex-Cuomo economic development aide Leecia Eve.

James has been endorsed by Cuomo and much of the state’s Democratic Party establishment. During May’s State Democratic Convention, her candidacy was embraced with open arms. She’s since raked in a number of notable endorsements from unions and progressive groups. Results from a July Siena poll showed her leading the other candidates, but a caveat remains: she’s virtually unknown to upstate voters and has little campaign cash.

Maloney represents New York’s 18th District. He’s a former Clinton staffer and the first openly gay member of Congress to represent New York. This is his second bid for attorney general; he ran unsuccessfully in 2006, losing the nomination to Cuomo. Maloney boasts an impressive campaign finance arsenal, reportedly raising $500,000 within the first week of officially announcing his candidacy. Maloney simultaneously finds himself running for re-election for his current job in the 18th.

Teachout — the Fordham Law School Professor who bested Cuomo in majority of the Capital Region counties in her unsuccessful primary bid for Governor in 2014 — is touting her commitment to being independent from the Governor, her refusal to take corporate donations and her intention to hold the Trump administration accountable. Teachout garnered an endorsement from the New York Times editorial board, and has been embraced by members several newer members of the progressive left, such as Democratic congressional candidate in New York’s 14th District, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Eve, a former vice president for government affairs at Verizon, is no stranger to the political realm. The Buffalo native worked with the Senators Hilary Clinton and Joe Biden, and formerly worked under Cuomo. But Eve has been strangely absent from the campaign trail, making few public appearances and saying little to reporters.

One aspect dogging the candidates is that of independence from the Governor, a challenge built in to the nature of the office, as per the aforementioned inextricable ties to the executive branch. Nonetheless, all four of Democrats have insisted their commitment to acting independently.

The victor of the Sept. 13 primary election will faceoff with the only Republican in the race, Keith Wofford. Wofford is a partner at New York City based firm Ropes & Gray, although he is currently taking a leaving of absence due to the campaign. The contest is his first bid for elected office.

The general election is Nov. 6.

Underwood Pushes Back Against EPA Rollback Of Chemical Regs

Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s office on Friday announced it was opposed to a proposal she says would roll back regulatory guidelines for chemical accidents meant to protect communities and first responders.

Underwood’s office, leading a 12-state coalition of attorneys general, filed comments with the Environmental Protection Agency opposing the move that rescinds provisions in the 2017 amendments of the agency’s Risk Management Program.

“Yet again, the Trump Administration is proposing to sell out the health and safety of New Yorkers to corporate interests – jeopardizing our workers, first-responders, and communities,” Underwood said. “The EPA’s proposal would gut critical protections against all-too-common accidents at facilities that store and use dangerous toxic chemicals. If acting EPA Administrator Wheeler won’t scrap this reckless erosion of New Yorkers’ health and safety protections, we’re prepared to take legal action yet again to ensure a court does.”

At issue are amendments for accident prevention, meant to make improvements to safeguards against explosions, fires, gas releases and other accidents at facilities that house toxic chemicals.

Before the EPA had sought to make the changes to the program, then-Administration Scot Pruitt had backed blocking the rule from taking effect for 20 months.

AFL-CIO Endorses James For AG

Democratic attorney general candidate Letitia James on Tuesday was endorsed by the New York State AFL-CIO as she faces a four-way primary for the party’s nomination.

“As the Public Advocate for the City of New York, Tish James stood up for all New Yorkers,” said AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento. “She will bring that same passion statewide as our Attorney General to protect New Yorkers against the onslaught of attacks by those in Washington set out to destroy the middle class.”

The endorsement from the labor group is the capstone to the series of establishment nods James, the New York City public advocate, has received in the campaign. The AFL-CIO has endorsed Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year after sitting out the gubernatorial race in 2014; Cuomo is backing James in the attorney general race.

“For generations, the NYS AFL-CIO has led the fight for social and economic justice for millions of New Yorkers and I am honored to earn their support. As the next Attorney General, I will continue to work hand in hand with the members of the NYS AFL-CIO to ensure they have the fair wages, safe work conditions, and support they need,” James said. “I’ll never waver in my commitment to protecting the hardworking men and women of New York and will never shy away from challenging Donald Trump or any force that tries to roll back workers’ rights.”

James faces Leecia Eve, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and Zephyr Teachout in the Sept. 13 primary. The winner faces Republican Keith Wofford in the November general election.

Underwood Says She Will Challenge Scrapping Of Clean Power Plan

New York will file a legal challenge if the push to end the Clean Power Plan succeeds, Attorney General Barbara Underwood on Tuesday said in a statement. m

President Donald Trump’s administration earlier in the day signaled it would move to scrap the Obama-era renewable and clean power regulations that limit emissions from fossil-fuel power plants attributed to the changing climate.

“As we face another record-breaking year of punishing heat and violent storms, the Trump administration is seeking to gut crucial limits on emissions of climate change pollution from power plants – one of its largest sources,” Underwood said.

“’Climate change is real, no matter how much this administration tries to deny it. We need strong, immediate action to drastically cut climate change pollution and promote affordable, clean, and sustainable energy — not foot dragging and backtracking that seeks to prop up dirty, expensive power plants. If the Trump administration’s proposal to dismantle the Clean Power Plan is adopted, we will work with our state and local partners to file suit to block it – in order to protect New Yorkers, and all Americans, from the increasingly devastating impacts of climate change.”

New York is leading a multi-state and multi-city coalition that backs the continuation of the Clean Power Plan.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement also blasted the move by the Trump administration.

“The future of our environment, our economy and our children is at stake, and New York will not let President Trump take us backward. Today I am proud to announce that New York will join the Powering Past Coal Alliance to share our expertise and experience and continue to lead the fight against dirty and dangerous fossil fuels,” Cuomo said. “With our bold mandate to close all coal-fired power plants by 2020 and our nation-leading commitment to renewables, we are already at the forefront of the clean energy revolution and we will not go back.”

James Wants Special Session To Close ‘Double Jeopardy’ Pardon Loophole

Democratic candidate for attorney general Letitia James on Monday called for a special session to consider a bill that would prevent the president of the United States from pardoning people who are convicted of crimes committed in New York.

The push comes as the jury in the trial of President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort continues to deliberated bank fraud and money laundering charges.

James, the New York City public advocate, wrote to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to push for the session.

“While the rule against double jeopardy is a fundamental safeguard against persecution by prosecution, this legislation is narrowly tailored and necessary,” she said. “New York State, its lawmakers, and its Attorney General, can, and should, stand in the breach as a defense against the intentional dismantling of the checks and balances that protect us from autocracy. Our current Attorney General has urged that this law be passed so she can do her job. If I am elected as Attorney General, I will use the office to prosecute those crimes that fall within my jurisdiction.”

A special session is highly unlikely.

Cuomo had sought to push Republicans in the state Senate to return to Albany to approve an extension of a speed camera program for New York City schools, but has not formally called one. Republicans could simply gavel in and out of the session and not take up the bill.

Senate Republicans, in turn, have called for the passage of local tax extensions that were not completed when the legislative session ended in June.

Heastie has said it’s unlikely his conference will return to Albany for a session barring an emergency.

James is running in a four-way race for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, facing Leecia Eve, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and Zephyr Teachout.

In Video, Eve Says Trump Is Using ‘1984’ As A Playbook

The campaign of Democratic attorney general candidate Leecia Eve on Wednesday released a video drawing a parallel between President Donald Trump and Big Brother in the dystopian novel “1984.”

In the video, Eve reads from the George Orwell classic, saying that it amounts to Trump’s “playbook.”

“They tell us one thing, but our own eyes see it differently,” she said in the ad.

The video then segues into Eve’s personal history and biography before turning back to Trump.

“We are New York. We lead. We stand up to Donald Trump and any threat to our values and way of life,” she said in the spot. “So when Donald Trump goes after the rights of workers, immigrants, women — when he and his Supreme Court go after human rights, civil rights, reproductive rights — he’s going to have to go through me – and the 20 million New Yorkers I’m fighting for.”

Virtually all of the four candidates for attorney general on the Democratic side have pledged to act as a bulwark against Trump in the attorney general’s office — continuing on the work of an office that has challenged a variety of the administration’s policies on the environment, immigration and other issues.

Eve faces New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and Zephyr Teachout in a Democratic primary on Sept. 13. The winner faces GOP nominee Keith Wofford.

James: AG Can’t Be A ‘One-Trick Pony’

The primary rivals of Democratic attorney general candidate Letitia James on Tuesday pounced after she told The New York Times in an interview she would not seek to become the next “sheriff of Wall Street.”

Hours later on Tuesday, James sought to contain the fallout from the statement, insisting the office can and should do more beyond prosecuting bad actors on Wall Street, but promised to be “laser-focused” on financial fraud.

The trouble started with an interview in The Times published Tuesday morning in which James, the New York City public advocate, told the newspaper, “It’s really, critically important that I not be known as the ‘Sheriff on Wall Street.’”

That phrase has its own loaded history, having first been embraced by then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who as governor resigned amid a prostitution scandal, and later Andrew Cuomo when he served in the AG’s office.

Cuomo has endorsed James’s bid for attorney general, leading to questions about her degree of independence from the governor.

The story was pounced on by James’s rivals, including Zephyr Teachout.

“I can’t wait to be known as the Sheriff of Wall Street, because now more than ever when Congress is awash in corporate cash, the New York Attorney General must be the regulator of last resort,” Teachout said.

“The AG must protect New Yorkers from financial frauds and consumer rip-offs, and out of control speculators who take advantage of people and crash our markets. I’ve been fighting against lawlessness on Wall Street for over a decade, standing up to them after the financial crisis, and organizing against the lobbyists for financial reform. It has never been more important to enforce state laws with the rollback of Dodd-Frank and the gutting of the CFPB thanks to Congress.”

For her part, James in her own statement clarified the office is multi-pronged, but doesn’t need a tabloid headline-like name to get results.

“The Attorney General cannot be a one-trick pony. I will be laser-focused on taking on Wall Street abuses — I don’t need a moniker for that,” she said.

“But the Attorney General’s Office must also be focused on ending the gun violence crisis that is killing young men across the state, fighting the Trump Administration’s draconian immigration policies, protecting the environment — from lead in the water in Buffalo to illegal dumping on Long Island — and 100 other priorities that must be handled at the same time. Anyone suggesting otherwise is doing a disservice to the powers of the office and the people of New York.”

Eve Releases Anti-Corruption, Voting Reform Platform

Democratic candidate for attorney general Leecia Eve on Friday unveiled an anti-corruption platform that includes election and campaign finance reforms as well.

Eve wants to end the oft-maligned Joint Commission on Public Ethics and replace it with a non-partisan commission and would push to create early voting and automatic voter registration.

She also wants to close the loophole that allows unlimited donations through a web of limited liability companies.

And she wants “no-excuse” absentee balloting applications.

At the same time, the platform includes a plan to investigate and prosecute sexual harassment in state government support for banning outside income for state lawmakers while also increasing legislators’ salaries.

Nearly all of the proposals would require legislation and approval from the governor.

“New York State has been a progressive leader in ensuring our rights as citizens are protected, from civil rights to the women’s rights movement and the LGBTQ community, among others,” Eve said.

“As Attorney General, I will fearlessly and effectively continue in this tradition,” said Leecia Eve. “But when it comes to our voting laws and issues of corruption and campaign finance, we have a long way to go – and that’s on us.”

Eve is running in a four-way primary for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, a race that includes New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and Zephyr Teachout.

James Releases Criminal Justice Reform Plan

The attorney general’s role as special prosecutor when it comes to civilians dying during interactions with police or being injured or sexually assaulted should be codified in state law, according to a criminal justice platform released Wednesday by Letitia James.

James, the New York City public advocate, is one of four Democrats vying for the party’s nomination for attorney general in a Sept. 13 primary.

The platform includes a push for the state to fund body cameras for cops and allow for more open discovery rules statewide.

And James is calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign legislation that would create a prosecutorial misconduct commission for locally elected district attorneys.

Cuomo, who has endorsed James, has not given an indication whether he would sign the bill, which is opposed by the state’s district attorneys.

“When too many feel the scales of justice are tilted against them, we must change the system. As the State’s top law enforcement official, I will bring accountability and transparency to outdated systems in dire need of reform,” James said in a statement.

James faces Leecia Eve, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and Zephyr Teachout in the primary.

The full platform can be found here.

NYC Councilwomen Endorse James for AG

From the Morning Memo:

A group of female New York City Council members endorsed Public Advocate Letitia “Tish” James for AG, adding their names to a growing list of Democratic elected officials throwing their support behind her candidacy.

Taking up the torch for James were: Adrienne Adams, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Diana Ayala, Margaret Chin, Laurie Cumbo, Vanessa Gibson, Karen Koslowitz, Carlina Rivera, Deborah Rose, and Helen Rosenthal.

The women, all Democrats, were united in their praise of James’ record, particularly her stance on women’s rights.

“Throughout her career, Tish James has been a strong voice for women’s reproductive rights and access to healthcare options,” Gibson said. “At a time when these rights are under attack by the Trump Administration, it is critical that New York elects an Attorney General who will never back down from protecting these most basic rights. Tish James is the Attorney General New York needs in order to ensure that women’s rights and access to basic healthcare are protected.”

James released a series of proposals last week that were aimed at easing access to medical care and abortion services for New York women, as well as eliminating workplace discrimination during pregnancies.

Like the governor, who is backing her candidacy to fill the vacancy left by the abrupt departure of former AG Eric Schneiderman, James has been vocal in her support of the Reproductive Health Act, adding her voice to those calling on the GOP-lead state Senate to return to Albany to pass it.

Before serving as public advocate, James was herself a Council member. She was elected on the Working Families Party line – the party’s first candidate to land a citywide office – but has since distanced herself from the WFP, which is at war with the governor and backing his primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon.

James was endorsed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo before the Democratic state convention in May, and since then has been embraced by party members statewide. Last week she traveled to Puerto Rico with Cuomo along with SUNY and CUNY students volunteering on the recovering island for class credit.

James faces three fellow Democrats in the upcoming September primary: NY-18 Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, ex-Cuomo aide and Buffalo native Leecia Eve and Fordham Law Prof. Zephyr Teachour, who ran an unsuccessful primary challenge against Cuomo in 2014.