Democratic Party candidates for AG say they will fight Trump Administration
BATAVIA – The four Democratic Party candidates seeking to be attorney general met in Batavia for a forum on Monday evening. All four say an effective attorney general is needed more than ever to protect New Yorkers from the Trump Administration, whether it be safeguarding women’s rights and immigrants, or protecting the environment from an EPA that is catering to “fossil fuel lobbyists.”
The Democratic Rural Conference of New York State, which represents 47 counties with populations less than 250,000, organized the forum that stretched nearly 2 hours and included Letitia James, Leecia Eve, Sean Patrick Maloney and Zephyr Teachout. The four will be in a primary on Sept. 13.
The state needs to fill the vacancy in the office created in May by the resignation of Eric Schneiderman, who was accused of sexual misconduct.
All four vowed to be fierce advocates in the office, especially for vulnerable residents of the state.
Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University, said the country is in a crisis with the Trump Administration in Washington and a “culture of corruption” in Albany.
She has already been part of a lawsuit against Trump, suing him for violating the Foreign Emoluments Clause by using the presidency to enrich himself.
“Donald Trump is ripping families apart,” Teachout said. “We can’t trust this administration. We can’t trust EPA, which has been taken over by fossil-fuel lobbyists.”
Teachout said she is “an anti-corruption expert” who won’t back down in pursuing graft and wrongdoing, especially among powerful corporations and politicians.
Letitia “Tish” James, the public advocate in New York City, has a 30-year career of fighting for low-income residents. As the New York City public advocate, she said her office has resolved 32,000 cases, including for some residents who showed up at her office with all their possessions in a plastic bag.
“No one is above the law and no one is below the law,” she said. “I view the law as both a sword and a shield. What is at stake right now is our democracy and the fundamental principle of equal justice of all.”
Buffalo native Leecia Eve graduated from Harvard Law School, served as a counsel to Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton and worked as the chief economic advisor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Her father, Arthur Eve, was a longtime leader in the State Assembly.
She has a passion for rural New Yorkers and would insist the Attorney General’s Office has a presence in the rural communities.
“I have been fighting for social justice all of my life,” she said, calling herself the most qualified candidate.
Sean Patrick Maloney, a congressman from the Hudson Valley, has worked for the White House as a staff secretary, managing 100 people for Bill Clinton. He also worked as the first deputy secretary for former governors Eliot Spitzer an David Paterson. Maloney is the first openly gay congressman from New York.
“We need someone in Albany who can beat the crooks in Albany,” he said.
The candidates were asked how the attorney general can help the state’s agricultural industry. Teachout said a concentration of large businesses are squeezing profits from farmers. She wants to break up monopolies in seeds, farm equipment and pesticides.
“People are making a lot of money in food, it’s just not farmers,” she said. “ The number of buyers is shrinking.”
The conglomerates increasingly tell farmers “what you can and can’t do,” she said.
Tish James said the Trump Administration’s “horrific tariffs” are hurting agriculture, and an anti-immigration focus from the federal government keeps farmworkers “in the shadows.”
Eve worked with Hillary Clinton to establish the NY Farm Day in the U.S. Capitol, which showcases NY agriculture. She said many regulations that the federal government imposes on farms are overly burdensome for small operations.
The candidates all strongly support uniform voting hours on primary day. In upstate, the voting hours are noon to 9 p.m., while New York City opens the polls six hours earlier.
“I think is absolutely outrageous that rural New Yorkers are unable to fully exercise their right to vote,” Eve said.
She said the state could fund the extra hours to open the polls upstate at 6 a.m.
“We should be doing everything possible to make it easier for New Yorkers to vote,” Eve said.
Teachout said New York has some of the worst voting laws, and most gerrymandered districts. She faults Republicans for “incumbent protections” that suppress the vote.
James wants to see expanded voting rights for people who have been incarcerated, and polling stations need to be handicapped accessible.
Mahoney said voting rights should be a focus for the Democratic Party.
“As Democrats we should never be afraid to let people vote,” he said.
The candidates said the high cost of healthcare a threat to many families, as well as the cost of government.
Teachout said she believes healthcare s “a basic human right,” and pharmaceutical companies need to bring down their costs so medication is affordable.
James said the Attorney General’s Office needs to fight to keep pre-existing conditions, and coverage for children up to 26 should Trump and Congress dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
“I’m proud we were able to stop Trump Care,” said Mahoney, who has served nearly six years in Congress. “ The attorneys general is the check on the Trump Administration that the Congress should be.”
The candidates said the opioid crisis is decimating rural communities, and the pharmaceutical companies, which they say pushed painkillers, need to be held responsible.
“I’m not going to settle for peanuts,” Teachout said. “We have to make sure the true cost is paid. We have to make sure the settlement money goes where people are most hurt.”
She wants a settlement to fund treatment, supportive housing and transportation services in rural communities.
Eve said the country is “at war” in fighting the opioid epidemic. Some states are seeing a decrease in overdoses, while the epidemic is worsening in New York, she said.
“A multi-front war we have to wage to fight this opioid crisis and help communities recover,” she said.
She is in favor of more drug courts where people charged with drug crimes aren’t necessarily imprisoned, but receive treatment and services to fight their addictions.
Mahoney said he carries Narcan in his vehicle in case he encounters someone in an overdose. Narcan can reverse the overdose and save lives.
“Everybody is in this game,” he said about the epidemic.
The candidates also said they support driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. The issue has been brought up since Eliot Spitzer was governor more than a decade ago.
Eve said the licenses would give the immigrants more freedom to be in the state, and would also allow officials to know who is in the communities.
“It’s a public safety issue,” she said. “We want people not to be in the shadows. People shouldn’t be fearing every single day of their lives that they or a member of their family will be taken away. This is a long time a coming and I think it’s finally come our way.”
Mahoney said he has visited detention centers where children are being held, separate from family members.
“Mass deportation is racist and absolutely immoral,” he said.
Teachout said she favors having New York be “a full sanctuary state, it’s never been more important than now.”
The candidates said consumer protections would also be a focus, for residents who face scams. Teachout said the Trump Administration has “gutted” seven consumer protection agencies.
The four Democrats also said protecting the state’s natural resources need to be a priority. Teachout said keep fracking out of New York “is one of greatest environmental victories in recent decades.”
She has a strong environmental justice platform.
“We can’t trust the EPA and what is happening in federal courts,” she said. “I believe a nation that poisons its soil, poisons itself.”
Mahoney said he kept large oil barges off Hudson River, and was instrumental in cleanup of PCBs on the Hudson.
Clean water and clean air are critical, he said, and he supports legislation to price and tax carbon.
“That is how you will get clean energy to scale in America,” he said.
James wants NY to divest from fossil fuels. At New York City, she worked on recycling laws and incentives for solar panels.
Eve said it’s fundamental of the attorney general to protect natural resources.
“I will continue the very robust effort to fight against the assault by Donald Trump and his EPA head who is giving polluters free rein across the country,” Eve said. “We are in my humble opinion the most beautiful state and in the most beautiful country in the world.”
The state can make more progress in reducing exposure to lead poisoning, she said.
Mahoney said it’s imperative that Democrats step up, because Trump is winning.
“We have to come together right now because the fight has never been more important than it is now,” Mahoney said. “We will beat Donald Trump by being tough and strong. Democrats have to wake up and get a backbone and get in the game.”
Teachout said she is up for the challenge.
“This is the moment when we are facing the most corrupt administration in American history,” she said. “I am an anti-corruption expert. I know how to use new tools. I know how to use old tools. It will take a determined and tenacious anti-corruption expert to go in and clean up Albany once and for all.”