Voters trying to decide among the four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general in a primary election on Sept. 13 got some help recently.
Zephyr Teachout received strong endorsements from The New York Times and The Daily News because of her credentials, her ideas and, most important of all, her independence from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Then she took that advantage one step further with the kind of proposal that is obvious once you think of it but was either not apparent or not attractive to her opponents.
If she is elected, she said, she would reconvene the commission that briefly investigated corruption in Albany before the governor abruptly withdrew funding and more or less declared the problem solved. The problem was not solved, and the action by the governor, suspicious at the time, has only become more suspect with corruption indictments and convictions in his inner circle.
The governor began the effort under the state’s Moreland Act, a century-old piece of legislation, to investigate corruption in the Legislature. After reluctant legislators passed some modest reform laws, the governor took away the funding. But the commission lived on in the evidence that it collected, evidence that eventually ended up with the convictions of the other two men in the room, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican. The evidence preserved by the man then serving as U.S. attorney for the Souther District, Preet Bharara, was strong enough to survive a vigorous defense through two trials.
Teachout, showing the intelligence of the law professor she is and the independence she has long demonstrated, has figured out that while the governor might have been able to end the funding, he could not take away the authority that had been granted to the attorney general.
As Teachout announced this week, should she win the nomination, which in practical terms should also end up in a November general election victory, “as attorney general, I would use that executive order to investigate corruption in Albany.”
The other three candidates have been much too cozy with the governor, an allegation that never taints Teachout, and have spent the campaign raising money from rich donors and repeating the kinds of flimsy promises about fighting corruption that we have been hearing for decades without results.
The Moreland Commission work put the two top crooks in Albany in jail and if it can be continued, as Teachout reasonably claims, it would be the kind of effort that corrupt legislators and other leaders throughout the state would fear with good reason.
As Politico noted in a recent story about the race, candidates have made 39 policy proposals that mostly talk about doing what has been done but doing it “vigorously” or in a “beefed-up” fashion. Another dozen or so promises concern asking legislators to act, and we know how that usually turns out.
It’s no wonder the other three Democrats have turned on Teachout. Even they can see that she has something New York needs, that hidden route around the impenetrable wall of corruption that has protected Albany legislators and leaders for so long.