Candidates Take Shots in AG Debate

Candidates for Attorney General of New York Eric Schneiderman and Dan Donovan squared off in a debate held Monday at WAMC public radio studios and co-sponsored by the Albany Times Union.

Republican candidate Dan Donovan hit Democratic State Senator Eric Schneiderman over a report by the state inspector general just days ago. It excoriated top Senate Democrats for severe mishandling of a deal to select a vendor for a gambling casino at Aqueduct Raceway. Inspector General Joseph Fisch has referred the actions of Senate Leader John Sampson to prosecutors. Donovan says Schneiderman, who is Deputy Majority Leader of Policy in the Senate, was "asleep at the wheel," and should have known about the dealings and spoken out.

"How you could not know about it is beyond me," said Donovan, the Staten Island District Attorney. "I don't know if that's worse than not doing anything about it."

Schneiderman says he was not named in the report, and knew nothing of the dealings of the top Senate Leadership. He says he even voted against a bill that sanctioned the unorthodox dealings with the gambling firm AEG.

"This was just not a deal I was ever involved with," said Schneiderman.

Schneiderman received $76,000 in campaign contributions from Senator Sampson and other Senate leaders, but has since returned the money. Schneiderman says if Sampson or any other Senate Democratic leader is charged with a crime in the course of the criminal probes, then they should step down. Donovan says Senate Democrats, including Schneiderman, could allow Sampson due process, but in the meantime, they could ask him to leave his post.

"That's just another reflection of Eric's lack of leadership," said Donovan.

Schneiderman accused his opponent of "playing politics" with the IG's report.

Schneiderman then attacked Donovan for his acceptance of a quarter of a million dollars in campaign contributions from a hedge fund manager. The money represents one fourth of all funds raised by Donovan during the latest campaign reporting period. The Democrat accused the Republican of being soft on Wall Street prosecutions, saying Donovan had said he did not want to be the Sheriff of Wall Street, a moniker earned by past Attorneys General Cuomo and Spitzer.

"You also stated 'I don't want to disturb the garden' of Wall Street," said Schneiderman, who accused Donovan of being a "go along to get along" politician.

Donovan says in his seven years as DA, "no one has gotten a political favor from me because of a campaign contribution", and he says much of the contributions from leaders in the financial industry came from friends of New York City Mayor and billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who has endorsed him. He also says his views about policing Wall Street were misinterpreted, and that he would "aggressively" go after corruption in the financial industry, without a "self title" or "self proclamation."

"We could root out corruption without destroying the industry," said Donovan. "It means you're being sensible about it."

Schneiderman also charged that Donovan, who is pro-life, would not adequately protect a woman's right to choose abortion. Donovan vehemently denied that and said he'd actively enforce the law of the land.

The debate also touched on the collection of taxes on cigarettes from non-Indians on Indian lands. The current Governor and Attorney General are actively pursuing litigation to collect the taxes to help plug the state's budget gap. Schneiderman says the taxes must be collected, while Donovan says he would abide by the original treaties signed with tribes and if it's found that they are violating the law, the law will be enforced.

Both candidates tried to distance themselves from certain members of their party. Donovan was hesitant to say much about his party's top of the ticket, the controversial gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino.

"I am comfortable with my election and my race," said Donovan.

Donovan condemned racist e-mails sent by Paladino to friends, saying they are "offensive". He also said he did not agree with statements by Paladino that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver should be beaten or sent to Attica prison.

Schneiderman walked back from comments he made during an endorsement from civil rights leader, the Reverend Al Sharpton, when he said Sharpton could have an "annex" in the AG's office, if he's elected. Schneiderman says no one should take the remark "literally."

"Obviously, It was inartful," said Schneiderman, who said the statements were about "giving voice to the voiceless."

They were also asked, in light of revelations about the personal lives of former attorney general and Governor Eliot Spitzer and his successor Governor David Paterson, whether they had anything in their private lives which might prove embarrassing later on. Spitzer's admission that he patronized high-priced call girls led to his resignation. After a brief pause, Donovan says his personal life is "boring". Schneiderman says his is, too.

"And I believe Dan on this one," said Schneiderman.

"What, that my person life is boring," said Donovan , to laughter from the studio audience.

The Attorney General's race is the closest of all the statewide contents. In at least one poll the race is within the margin of error in the final week of the campaign.