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Candidates Vie For NY Attorney General

The next attorney general of the state of New York is very likely to make history. Both Tish James, the Democratic candidate and current New York City public advocate, and the Republican candidate — bankruptcy lawyer Keith Wofford — are African-American. But the two hold different views on many topics.

James, who won her seat as public advocate with the help of the left-leaning Working Families Party, has made her campaign about opposition to President Trump and his policies. She says she would continue numerous lawsuits, including one against the Trump Foundation, now being conducted by the current Attorney General Barbara Underwood. Underwood is serving as the replacement to former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who resigned in May after being accused of assaulting women that he dated. Schneiderman has said the incidents were consensual.

In an interview with public radio and television earlier this year, James said she’s very familiar with using the courts for social change and to right wrongs, including for tenant’s rights and rights for women and disabled children.

“Each and every day, I wake up, I go to my office, I sue somebody, and then I go home,” James said.

James won a Democratic primary, where she had the backing of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Despite that, she says she will be independent of Cuomo, and criticizes the governor for prematurely shutting down a Moreland Act Commission on state corruption. She’s called on the head of the state ethics commission, which is controlled by Cuomo, to resign, and believes the commission should be restructured. And she says if elected attorney general, she would seek new powers to pursue corruption cases in the governor’s office and in the legislature.

“I’ve been independent all my life, just by the nature of who I am," James said.

Cuomo is known to have a strong personality, but James said she has an “even stronger personality.”

Republican Keith Wofford grew up in Buffalo, where his mother was a secretary and his father worked at the Chevy plant. He graduated from Harvard and is on leave from the international law firm Ropes and Gray, where he specializes in bankruptcy settlements.  

Wofford says he’s the true independent in the race, because he has never held elected office and has no political ties to anyone. He says he’s better equipped to clean up corruption that’s led to several former associates of Governor Cuomo going to prison for bribery and bid rigging.

“The difference that I can make, is I’m someone who’s independent and from the outside,” said Wofford. “We have a corruption problem and the cost of the corruption is killing us.”

Wofford says he would be less “partisan” and “political” in the job than his opponent. He says he would pursue some, but not all, of the lawsuits against President Trump and his administration. He says he would take legal action against Trump’s Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, for including questions about citizenship in the new census questionnaire.

“The point of the census is to count people,” Wofford said. “Anything you do to undermine the accuracy of the census is something that we should stay away from.” 

And he says he’d look into reports published in the New York Times that Trump and his family cheated on their taxes in the past.

Wofford says he is a supporter of the president, even though he might not always agree with everything Trump does.

And he says he would be more business friendly. He says previous attorneys generals, like Eliot Spitzer, focused too much on regulating Wall Street instead of making it easier for companies to create jobs.

Both candidates have relatively low budgets to run a statewide race — they have raised and spent less than half a million dollars each. The attorney general’s race is the closest of all the statewide races, according to the polls, which show James 14 points ahead of Wofford.    

There are two other candidates in the race. Michael Sussman, a civil rights lawyer from Orange County, is running as a Green Party candidate, and Christopher Garvey, of Long Island, is running on the Libertarian line.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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