LATEST PAPER
60° Good Morning
60° Good Morning
OpinionEditorial

Newsday endorses Letitia James for attorney general

She will be a passionate advocate for consumers, such as protecting older residents from housing fraud and other scams.

Letitia James, a Democratic candidate for state attorney

Letitia James, a Democratic candidate for state attorney general, speaks at a campaign rally in Mineola. Photo Credit: Chris Ware

Summary:  So who is the best candidate to run the 600-attorney public law firm to best represent the state and specifically Long Island?

That candidate is Letitia James, the public advocate for New York City, a former City Council member and former head of the attorney general’s regional office in Brooklyn. She will be a passionate advocate for consumers, such as protecting older residents from housing fraud and other scams, and she would be diligent in ferreting out taxpayer fraud.

Only the most engaged Democrats will vote in the state party primary for attorney general next week, and they’re likely to be itching for a candidate who makes the most noise about using the office as a platform to thwart President Donald Trump’s administration.

That would be a waste of your vote. Current state Attorney General Barbara Underwood, chosen by the State Legislature to replace Eric T. Schneiderman after he resigned, is on the case. And no one running has the professional chops to do it better. Underwood, who has extensive federal and local prosecutorial experience, is suing Trump, three of his children and The Trump Foundation for self-dealing transactions that violated state charities law. Oversight of nonprofit organizations is one of the prime functions of the state attorney general, evidenced again Thursday when Underwood announced the office is examining whether the state’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses used donations in covering up sexual abuse of minors.

Underwood, a former acting solicitor general of the United States, is also investigating whether Trump’s businesses in New York are violating the federal constitutional ban on presidents receiving payment from foreign governments and is in the lead with other states in suing the federal government over its immigration policies and regulatory rollbacks.

Underwood said she would continue working in the office, and all four attorney general candidates have pledged to keep her on. No matter which Democrat wins the primary, if he or she wins in the general election in November the office’s fight against Trump’s policies will continue.

Best for Long Island

Despite every candidate donning the crusader cloak against corrupt public officials, the actual powers of the attorney general to investigate those cases are limited. The state constitution invests criminal prosecution powers in local district attorneys and experience has shown that U.S. attorneys have the more expansive laws to bring wrongdoers to justice. The state attorney general and the state comptroller investigate the misuse of state funds. However, changing Albany’s pay-to-play culture requires changes to campaign finance laws and a ban on outside income.

So who is the best candidate to run the 600-attorney public law firm to best represent the state and specifically Long Island?

That candidate is Letitia James, the public advocate for New York City, a former City Council member and former head of the attorney general’s regional office in Brooklyn. She will be a passionate advocate for consumers, such as protecting older residents from housing fraud and other scams, and she would be diligent in ferreting out taxpayer fraud.

James, who goes by Tish and has been doggedly campaigning here, is the only candidate who can knowledgeably take on the serious environmental issues facing our region, including the illegal dumping of toxic construction debris that threatens our soil and water. She will work to get more money from mortgage crisis settlement funds directed to local landbanks to rehabilitate zombie homes. And she has clear plans to seize hazardous lots and decrepit housing from banks, or from slumlords who aren’t keeping them up, and give them to municipalities to develop.

Leecia Eve, a former aide to Hillary Clinton when she was in the Senate, is a lobbyist for Verizon and a commissioner with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. She is intently focused on criminal justice reform, but she was late to seek party support and her campaign barely registers downstate.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has a deep understanding of state government, having worked for Govs. Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson, and its interaction with Washington. But he showed little passion for the job he is seeking as evidenced by his decision to run simultaneously for re-election to Congress.

Zephyr Teachout, a law professor, is seeking a national platform for her government reform ideas but doesn’t seem to have a strong grasp of the job she seeks. She doesn’t demonstrate a granular understanding of how the attorney general’s office works, telling us that she has the vision and would set a “legal strategy.” In the past four years, Teachout ran unsuccessfully for governor and Congress, in an upstate race in which she showed little enthusiasm for recently enacted state gun-control laws.

Teachout became a registered member of the New York bar only a few weeks ago. She dismisses her failure to take the steps to practice law in the state as insignificant but it gives credence to the concern that Teachout talks a big game but isn’t much interested in specifics.

Reason to believe

In 2010 and in 2014 we did not endorse Schneiderman because we were troubled by his showboating, inability to attract and keep talent in the office, and lack of interest about Long Island issues, particularly on aggressively protecting the environment. Those concerns remain.

Tish James came up through the ranks as a scrappy fighter and is now the party’s designated candidate. She promises this won’t diminish her independence as attorney general, and we believe her.

Newsday endorses James.

Top News stories