Democratic primaries are dominated by labor unions and liberal-leaning voters, but the five Democrats vying to become the state’s next attorney general made their case to New York’s business community this morning at the Crain’s Breakfast Forum. And all tried to tailor their largely liberal policy agenda into something that would ultimately benefit the state’s business climate.
“I believe the business community has the same interests as anyone who fights for social justice,” said state Senator Eric Schneiderman in the forum’s opening statement, a line that to some degree or another was echoed by his opponents and demonstrated how the candidates must straddle a difficult line to appeal to the many interests in the state’s Democratic Party.
Attorney Sean Coffey however called out Schneiderman and his fellow Albany legislator Richard Brodsky, a Westchester Assemblyman, for voting–along with their legislative leaders, he pointedly noted–to increase taxes on the wealthy, a move he said he disagreed with.
The five candidates were asked about the biggest political news of the day–Charlie Rangel’s upcoming trial before the House ethics committee–and all five offered at least tepid support for the longtime Congressman, saying that they would reserve judgement until all of the facts came out.
The candidates had to tread lightly here as well. All five have vowed to take on public corruption, and so much as none want to be seen angering backers of one of the state’s senior Democrats, they were forced to also show that they would be tough on politicians who abuse the public’s trust.
“If proven to be true, it’s another example of what the general public in New York feels, that there are two sets of rules,” said Kathleen Rice, the frontrunner in early polling in the race. “That is something we have to do away with.”
Rice also hit back on the notion that she is too conservative for a Democratic electorate, at one point touching Schneiderman–who has leveled the charge against her–on his arm and saying, “I think deep down in his heart Eric knows there is not a more progressive D.A. than Kathleen Rice.”
Schneiderman demurred, but did later pledge to back Rice if she is the Democratic nominee.
Rice also sounded contrite regarding a newspaper report published over the weekend detailing how she had failed to vote until 2002. She called it a “mistake,” and said “I spend a lot of time now speaking to young people not to make the same mistakes that I did.”
The candidates were asked again about the reform of Rockefeller Drug Laws, a topic that has been beaten to death in the first six months of the campaign. They were not asked their views on the issue, but instead if they thought it was being used as political sword in the campaign.
Coffey, Rice, and former superintendent of the Insurance Department Eric Dinallo thought it has been; Schneiderman and Brodsky both said that Rockefeller was a legitimate issue.
“On this campaign it has become some sort of litmus test,” Dinallo said. “We should focus on issues that would really be important in the attorney general’s office.”
Coffey added that political debates like the one over Rockefeller were what made him decide to jump into the ring himself.
“This was the kind of thing that drove me crazy,” he said. “Albany is burning and the career politicians are fighting about who had depth of opposition to a law that passed a year ago.”