I didn’t want to think about politics last week. My wife and I were on a brief vacation, planned long before the opportunity arose to join the staff here at The Freeman’s Journal and Hometown Oneonta.
We kept our plans — it was a drive to Cincinnati to see Fiona the Hippo at the zoo (really — look her up, because it’s a very sweet story and who knew that hippos were so entertaining?) and to see Bob Dylan in concert. Both were magnificent.
Oh, but New York’s political scene doesn’t give much rest to those of us who find some sort of interest or odd entertainment value in its inner workings. It’s when the inside baseball spills out into the public that it becomes far more serious than “entertainment value.”
I wrote last week about the kerfuffle to come in the Democratic primary for Governor and touched on the equally important race for Attorney General. The office of New York’s ‘AG’ — an abbreviation sometimes expanded as “Aspiring Governor” — assumed a far more public policy leadership role back in the days of Eliot Spitzer. Andrew Cuomo rehabilitated his flagging political career when he took the AG post in 2006; Eric Schneiderman was well on his way to greater political office until his career imploded in the wake of scandal in 2018.
And then last week, AG Letitia James issued the occasionally jawdropping transcripts of the interviews her office conducted with now ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo and many of those involved in that particularly snarly investigation. It was amazing reading that underscored the importance and the power of the state’s Attorney General.
I can’t imagine it’s easy being the Attorney General, particularly when ensconsed in a scandal that reaches to the state’s highest elected office. Former Governor Cuomo went through it all when the guy he succeeded as AG, Eliot Spitzer, got himself tangled up in naughty business and had to resign. And now current AG James has to straddle the thin line between doing her job and running for the higher office vacated as a result of the work she was charged to do.
This means, of course, that every action she and her office will be obliged to take in the year ahead will come under scrutiny and likely fire from those in her party who prefer another candidate in the getting-more-crowded field for governor and, of course, probably even greater fire from those in the Republican
Party who will angle to win back the AG’s office for the first time since 1998.
And, of course, the Republicans won’t be shy about aiming all kinds of broadsides at the Democrats running for governor, AG, or any other office with wider state implication.
It’s going to get, well, nasty.
The Republican fields for the two important races aren’t yet as packed as the Democratic side. So far, the Republicans have likely gubernatorial nominee Lee Zeldin, a Long Island congressman whose race against former Westchester County Executive Rob Asterino and, bizarrely (to me, anyway), Andrew Giuliani, hasn’t created the fireworks for which I think a lot of people on both sides of the aisle had hoped. And who knows who they’ll toss into the AG contest.
The Democratic field for the AG, though, is shaping up to be a real barnburner. Zephyr Teachout, long a thorn in Andrew Cuomo’s side, has already announced; a couple of state senators have their eye on the seat, and two district attorneys from New York City all look to be lining up to run.
Don’t forget that Andrew Cuomo is sitting on a campaign chest of some $18 million, and don’t count him out.
It’s a fact that the AG’s office in New York State can wield an enormous amount of power and strike fear in the hearts of even the most staid corporate boardrooms. Given its public policy expansion in the last two decades, it’s an important race for all of us to watch, whether or not we want to think about it.