WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
With less than a week to go, polls indicate most Democratic voters couldn't pick one of the five contenders for Attorney General out of a line-up. The airwaves are jammed with AG wannabe TV ads and the candidates are all beating the bushes to produce yet another marquee endorsement.
Former federal prosecutor-turned-trial attorney Sean Coffey is ending the race much as he started: running as the "Albany outsider." He has responded to press reports about his massive campaign contributions throughout the country, calling them a sign of his unwavering commitment to see to it that Democrats get elected----hardly a disqualifier in a Democratic primary. He's pledged to do for New Yorkers what he did for plaintiffs when he recovered millions from the civil fraud case he brought against Worldcom.
Coffey's healthy, largely self-funded war chest means he is going to be able to dominate the airwaves with the TV ads that picture him in his white military formals that he wore during his distinguished Navy career. The latest ads feature everyday New Yorkers and cast Coffey as their advocate. That should play well upstate and in Reagan Democratic households in the five boroughs. He also has an extensive network of campaign satellite offices around the state that will help him with his ground game came next Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Manhattan State Senator Eric Schneiderman has been collecting major endorsements almost daily for the last few weeks, including from The New York Times. He won major labor backing early on from unions like 1199 and 32 BJ. His latest ad includes former Mayor David Dinkins, City Council Christine Quinn, and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson. He has the backing of another Mayoral hopeful, Congressman Anthony Weiner, as well as "progressives" like Congressman Jerry Nadler.
Schneiderman's work leading the fight to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws as well, as his current campaign messaging that raises questions about the NYPD's stop-and- frisk policy helped him win key endorsements from Reverend Al Sharpton and the Amsterdam News. His recent endorsement by the Albany Times Union may help counter the notion that he is an NYCentric candidate. (Disclosure: Schneiderman’s father, Irwin Scheniderman, who has been a significant donor to his son’s campaign, is a long-time member of the WNYC Board of Trustees and has been a generous donor to the station over the years.)
For months, before the primary campaign really got started, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice was considered the front runner by political pundits. But by the time Democrats got to their state covention in Rye Brook there was still enough doubt that the party decided to let the five contenders all fend for themselves. Just this week, Rice picked up City Comptroller John Liu's endorsement. It remains to be seen how transferable Liu's post-election luster will be, but as an ambitious Mayoral contender, Liu won't want to be seen as having picked a loser. Rice has organizational support from the Brooklyn and Queens Democratic Organizations and has a formidable base in Nassau County, where she has twice been elected District Attorney. She is the only woman in the field and no woman has ever been elected Attorney General, State Comptroller or Governor in New York.
Rice's ads project her as a "Law and Order" prosecutor. Out on the debate circuit, she caught her opponents by surprise early when she volunteered that there might be some laws, like the state's ban on same sex marriage, that she would choose not to defend as an act of conscience. Westchester Assembylman Richard Brodsky took strong exception to Rice's stance. Brodsky said that the Attorney General was constitutionally bound to defend all of the state's laws irrespective of the Attorney General's personal opinions about them.
Brodsky himself has stood out from the field with his reservations about the location of an Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero. His TV ad campaign bills him "the people's protector." Over the years he has picked high-profile fights over accountability with independent authorities like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and won. While the other campaigns have emphasized rooting out corruption in Albany, Brodsky has promoted the idea of the Attorney General being the public's defender against big corporations and governmental agencies. Brodsky has some labor backing and the support of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
Finally, the only Democratic contender who has actually worked in the office the Attorney General is former State Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo. Under former AG Elliot Spitzer, it was Dinallo who pionereed the use of the State's Martin Act as a way to make Wall Street firms more accountable. Though he has never run for public office before, he has won the endorsement of the New York Daily News and Crain's. His hard work early throughout rural New York helped win a very preliminary straw poll of rural Democrats. Like Rice, he also has said on the campaign trail that he would reserve the right to not defend a state law as Attorney General that he felt was morally objectionable.