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New York: Another Rotten Choice…For Attorney General: Spitzer In Reelection Bid Against Former State Judge Irizarry

New York: Another Rotten Choice

Robert L. Bartley


October 25, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 

California may have a governor's race between a jerk and a joke, but New York gets three bad choices: a union-boss-patronage incumbent, a front man for the Clinton machine and a billionaire demagogue.

Incumbent Gov. George Pataki claims to be a Republican, and New York is accustomed to "Rockefeller Republicans." But Gov. Pataki has become a "Harry Hopkins Republican." The FDR adviser coined the phrase "spend, spend -- tax, tax -- elect, elect." The governor's basic strategy is to buy up interest-group votes with taxpayer money and state perks.

His biggest buy was the endorsement of local legend Dennis Rivera, head of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union. Mr. Rivera represents some 200,000 health-care employees such as orderlies and cafeteria helpers. He runs phone banks and street workers on election day, and made his union the top-spending lobby in Albany.

Gov. Pataki closeted himself with Mr. Rivera to write the health-care bill that passed in January, though the state Assembly got the text 20 minutes before passage. The tab comes to $3.5 billion over three years, financed mostly out of thin air, with Mr. Rivera's union members getting some $1.8 billion of the pot in wage boosts. Not so incidentally, the bill also prohibits hospitals and other employers who receive state money from resisting Mr. Rivera's organizing drives; he hopes to expand his New York City base by adding some 50,000 members upstate.

With a $200 million state loan to raise teacher salaries in New York City, Gov. Pataki won the endorsement of even the United Federation of Teachers. He lined up Indian backing with a bevy of new casino licenses in such "tribal lands" as downtown Niagara Falls and Buffalo. He managed the endorsement of the Democratic mayors of Buffalo and Albany and, yesterday, the New York Times.

Pataki loyalists excuse these tactics as sheer necessity, pointing to Al Gore's 25-point New York win over George Bush in the 2000 presidential election -- after a Bush campaign decision to abandon the state. Yet Mr. Pataki's history of selling out conservative causes did not start yesterday; as early as 1997 he caved on repealing New York City rent control.

Gov. Pataki's lurch to buyouts has won him a double-digit lead in the polls, and if he wins big he will immediately start bidding for the GOP vice presidential nomination in 2004. National Republicans should etch in memory one current Pataki ad. It complains that as state comptroller, Democratic nominee Carl McCall "voted 34 consecutive times against tougher environmental standards for corporations and seven times against price controls on prescription drugs."

For this we need Republicans?

The Pataki ad makes Mr. McCall sound like an attractive "New Democrat." He's shouldered real responsibilities as comptroller, and is one prominent New York black who doesn't follow Al Sharpton making race a polarizing issue. But ultimately he serves to advance an agenda set by team Clinton, already dominating the New York Democratic Party and bidding to dominate the state as a national power base.

Mr. McCall owes the Clinton machine a big debt from his primary race against Andrew Cuomo, formerly the Clinton secretary of housing. In the home stretch of the campaign, Clinton aides suddenly appeared in the McCall entourage, and Sen. Hillary Clinton herself appeared to march with him in the West Indian Day parade. Then President Clinton appeared alongside Mr. Cuomo as he announced his withdrawal a week before the votes were due to be cast. The Clintons sought to solidify their standing among minorities, the thinking runs, with a Clinton-brokered McCall victory.

There's nothing wrong with politicians maneuvering to build their influence, of course, but the Clinton style displayed in Arkansas and Washington won't do much to beautify already notorious Albany politics. Savvy New Yorkers envision the Ickes machine, for Harold Ickes, mastermind of the Clinton New York effort. Locally, Mr. Ickes is known as a lawyer for shady labor unions, in particular Local 100 of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers International. Local 100 was placed under federal trusteeship in a 1992 settlement of a civil racketeering suit charging it was dominated by the Colombo and Gambino crime families.

In the Clinton White House, Mr. Ickes served as deputy chief of staff. In a 1998 report seeking an independent counsel for the campaign-finance investigation, task-force head Charles La Bella wrote that Mr. Ickes "assumed the role of Svengali" to direct the campaign and the suspicious fund-raising activities involving White House coffees, Buddhist temple visits and Lincoln bedroom sleepovers. Mr. Ickes, one of the first Clinton figures to assist in the McCall campaign, would no doubt be in a position to influence a Democratic governor on issues touching on law enforcement.

Scattered reports suggest that Democrats reading recent polls are worried that Mr. McCall may finish third in the race despite the Clinton backing. (Or maybe because of it?) Rochester billionaire B. Thomas Golisano is running a strong third-party effort with the Independence Party originally formed by Ross Perot. He's sometimes thought of as a conservative alternative, and sometimes talks of smaller government and offers some telling criticism of backroom dealing in Albany. But his super-expensive TV ad blitz pushes medical marijuana and criticizes the major candidates for accepting money from dread pharmaceutical companies. He's just endorsed the Democratic nominee for controller, though his Independence Party slate carries the Republican candidate. At best he offers a mixed message; more accurately a mixed-up one.

As one New York voter, I may have to resort to a write-in. In this field, come to think of it, California's inept but principled Bill Simon Jr. looks pretty good.

For Attorney General: An Achiever With Star Power

October 28, 2002
Copyright © 2002 NEWSDAY. All rights reserved. 

Let's not mince words: Democrat Eliot Spitzer has been a top-notch state attorney general. He has infused the office with energy and focus and in the process made himself a rising, prime-time star.

Spitzer's claim to fame is his campaign to root out wrongdoing in the securities industry. He alleged conflicts of interest that hurt small investors at industry giant Merrill Lynch and the company agreed to a $100-million settlement. More important than the money, he laid bare the kind of cozy, profit-driven cronyism that has undermined investor confidence and hurt the national economy.

Now Spitzer, 43, has taken aim at "spinning," a common kickback scheme in which top corporate executives funnel lucrative investment banking business to financial firms and in exchange receive preferential access to valuable shares in hot initial public offerings. In both situations, the attorney general targeted abuses that federal officials have been too slow to tackle.

Against a lesser opponent, Republican Dora Irizarry, 47, would be an attractive choice. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Bronx, Irizarry is the first Hispanic woman to make a major-party run for statewide office. After an Ivy League education, she became a prosecutor in New York City and rose through the ranks until 1997, when she was appointed a Court of Claims judge.

Irizarry is sharp and warm and will no doubt be successful if she continues in politics. But she sees the attorney general as a prosecutor. She would use the job to take on youth gangs, drug kingpins, auto insurance fraud and identity theft. The state, however, already has 62 district attorneys and a coterie of U.S. attorneys to prosecute such crimes.

Spitzer has the better vision and a proven track record. Newsday endorses Spitzer.

Spitzer In Reelection Bid Against Former State Judge Irizarry


October 26, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Less than a month before Election Day, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer still had spent less than a sixth of his campaign fund.

But when you're featured in flattering profiles on "60 Minutes," the "Today Show," Forbes magazine, on cable news television and in newspapers worldwide as has Spitzer this year, you didn't much need to buy TV time until the last minute to garner attention.

Former state judge Dora Irizarry, Republican Gov. George Pataki's hand-picked opponent for Spitzer, knows she has her work cut out for her but believes she came armed for battle against the Democratic incumbent.

"It's a question of balance," Irizarry said at a recent campaign appearance in which she spent much of her time talking up Pataki. "The attorney general's office is entrusted with many different types of duties, from criminal prosecutions to consumer protection, looking after charities."

The former state Court of Claims judge, born in Puerto Rico, said Spitzer hasn't focused enough on the growing problem of gang violence. She said the attorney general's office also needs to help local prosecutors with domestic violence cases, pedophiles using the Internet to hunt for victims and other crimes.

Irizarry said there is "danger" in using state tax dollars on Wall Street conflict-of-interest investigations, which Spitzer has used to make a name for himself nationally. They should be done by federal authorities, Irizarry said.

"We need to focus on the people who are flooding our streets with drugs, who are using guns, who are using the Internet that are using our children," said the single mother of a 15-year-old son. They live on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

The next attorney general needs to "refocus the (state) Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) to deal in these areas and get local law enforcement authorities the help that they need," she added.

Spitzer countered that the task force has been "remarkably successful" under his tenure as attorney general. He cited convictions won by the OCTF in drug cases, identity theft and in Internet crimes as well as assisting local prosecutors.

"We have a better relationship with local district attorneys than existed under my predecessor," Spitzer said of the Republican Dennis Vacco, against whom Spitzer prevailed in a bruising and high-spending election in 1998.

Topping it all, however, was Spitzer's historic $100 million settlement with Merrill Lynch & Co. this year after he said federal regulators failed to act. Merrill agreed to end conflicts of interests by stock researchers who gave "buy" recommendations to bad stocks to help secure investment banking business. Spitzer said that cost individual investors millions.

Several other brokerages adopted the rules and a global settlement is being negotiated.

Spitzer also cites his office's work on clean air, fair wage and access to health care issues.

"What I'm telling voters is they now have a four-year record to look at, a term in which I have tried to improve the lives of New Yorkers in every way possible given the reach of this office," said Spitzer, the millionaire son of a major Manhattan developer who lives in Manhattan and Columbia County.

The attorney general also represents the governor in court, sometimes in cases in which he is opposed to the Republican governor philosophically.

Irizarry said she would best serve in that role if Pataki is re-elected because she is the governor's choice. Spitzer disagrees and says a "politically dependent" relationship between governor and attorney general is not necessarily good.

"I think there is a very healthy dynamic that results from somebody of independence serving in this position who can speak to the governor," Spitzer said.

He added, "The governor and I get along famously."

Spitzer still had $2.76 million left in his campaign after spending $404,871 as of early October, but his aides said the campaign would spend about $2 million by Election Day. That's still a far cry from the $11 million Spitzer spent in 1998 to get elected for the first time.

Irizarry has spent $154,405 as of early October, and had $29,384 left. Republican officials were not willing to invest significant resources in Irizarry's long-shot candidacy, although the expected win by Spitzer would likely establish the attorney general as a formidable contender for governor in 2006.

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