Citizens Union today announced its support for Eric Schneiderman by "preferring" him over the four other strong and appealing candidates in the September 14th Democratic party primary for the Office of New York State Attorney General. Schneiderman, a state senator representing parts of Washington Heights and Riverdale in Manhattan and the Bronx, is an independent reform leader in state government who has the most suitable experience and presents the most compelling vision for how he would serve as attorney general.
"Eric Schneiderman has been a consistent and independent force for change in state government, regardless of whether he was in the minority or majority party in the State Senate. A champion for a more transparent and accountable government that treats all New Yorkers with dignity and respect, Senator Schneiderman has not just talked about reform these past few years, but forcefully - and at times successfully - challenged the status quo, even when there were political risks," said Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey. "Schneiderman exercises independence, is politically experienced, and possesses integrity. His strong command of the issues and ability to seize opportunities in seeking change make him the most qualified of the five Democrats running for attorney general," concluded Dadey.
Citizens Union is impressed with Schneiderman's experience as a state legislator in which he has built coalitions and navigated the legislative process. That experience will help him effectively exercise the authority of the office of Attorney General to further advance a needed agenda of change and reform in Albany. He was the first among the candidates to raise with Citizens Union the importance of pushing the current governor to grant original jurisdiction to the attorney general to investigate and prosecute political corruption cases, a prerequisite for creating a better ethical climate in Albany.
Citizens Union views favorably Schneidermans plans to place a public integrity officer in each regional office of the attorney general to root out local wrongdoing, which seemed the most workable of other proposals suggested. His proposals to more aggressively use the False Claims Act, which Schneiderman strengthened in the legislature this past session, and engage whistleblowers to hold those accountable who defraud state or local governments also held appeal for Citizens Union. Schneiderman intends to push many reforms Citizens Union advocated for in the legislature through the attorney general's bully pulpit and the office's ability to introduce program bills, including public financing of campaigns and giving the attorney general the ability to permanently enforce election and campaign finance law.
"Whether challenging legislative leaders to achieve the most significant reforms to empower rank-and-file legislators or bringing together members from both sides of the aisle to ensure all senators exercise ethical conduct that sets a high standard, Eric Schneiderman has been one of those who has led the way in battling the dysfunction that plagues Albany," said Peter Sherwin, Chair of Citizens Union's Board of Directors. "He possesses the commitment and conviction to fight public corruption and continue advocating for reform on a larger stage and with the greater authority that comes with the Office of Attorney General."
The preference of Citizens Union for Schneiderman in the primary was decided by a lengthy evaluation, full discussion and vote of the Board of Directors following interviews of all candidates by a team comprised of board members and members of Citizens Union's Local Candidates Committee. The evaluation included a thorough review of a broad ranging questionnaire completed by the candidates, and an assessment taken after all five participated in the candidates debate held by Citizens Union last month.
John Horan, Chair of the Citizens Union Local Candidates Committee said, "Citizens Union was impressed with all the candidates in the race, each of whom brought their own unique skills and strengths. The committee felt that any one of them would serve the state well, and the challenge became choosing the candidate whose combination of skills and experience would best fit the office and the serve the people of New York. We believe we do that in supporting Schneiderman."
The evaluation committee was especially stirred by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky's creative and innovative vision for the office, and his ability to foresee unique ways in which to leverage the power of the office to maximize change. Brodsky's record of enacting reform of seemingly impenetrable institutions like the state's many byzantine public authorities and tackling complex processes like energy pricing made Citizens Union consider supporting his candidacy very seriously. He is one of the strongest candidates among an exceptional group, but Citizens Union feels his experience in building coalitions and advocating for our broader reform agenda is exceeded by Senator Eric Schneiderman. Should he not win election as attorney general, Albany will be all the poorer for not having Brodsky in the legislature, where he is a natural talent and effective reformer.
Eric Dinallo showed impressive knowledge of the inner workings of the Office of Attorney General, having creatively used the Martin Act while serving as Assistant Attorney General under Eliot Spitzer, that would serve him and the state well. His efforts to obtain original jurisdiction in public corruption cases for the office from the governor has been second to none. With a track record in leading an agency as Superintendent of Insurance during a time of great financial tumult when a smart mind and steady hand were needed, Dinallo also possesses significant management skills that would also serve him well should he win.
Sean Coffey is a newcomer to running for office, but nonetheless is a dynamic and focused candidate. Citizens Union is pleased with the way he has embraced the reform agenda and prioritized it in his campaign, and by extension made it more visible in the public debate. His service to the country, work as a trial lawyer, and grasp of the issues suggest he could be a strong attorney general. Citizens Union's decision not to prefer Coffey was due in part to our concern over the disconnect created by him and his firm's involvement in making legal political contributions to comptroller candidates across the country and in New York - some of whom later awarded state contracts to his firm - and his pledge to reduce the influence of money in politics in Albany.
Kathleen Rice, the district attorney for Nassau County who has implemented innovative programs, impressed the committee with her ability to connect her experience and accomplishments to how she would be a successful attorney general. Rice also gave a very thorough account of what the Office of Attorney General would look like under her leadership. Citizens Union saw firsthand how her clarity and sense of purpose has helped her become a successful prosecutor. Citizens Union, however, found it difficult as a good government group to back her given her absence from voting throughout much of her adult life. Her answer to why she did not vote for eighteen years did not dissuade us of our belief that a candidate for statewide office should be setting a strong example for consistent civic responsibility. We also felt there are other candidates in the race who expressed a stronger commitment to seek and obtain from the governor the power to handle public corruption.
Citizens Union's preference is only for the Democratic Party primary election. It will re-examine the race when the Democratic nominee is selected by the voters and faces off against Dan Donovan, District Attorney for Staten Island and Republican nominee for attorney general, making a final decision regarding whom to endorse in the General Election in mid-October.
The attorney general candidates' CU questionnaire responses can be read on our website.