Blakeman presses Rice on Moreland tenure

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Republican congressional candidate Bruce Blakeman criticized his opponent, Kathleen Rice, for her role in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's disbanded Moreland Commission during a news conference at the Nassau County Supreme Court in Mineola ​on Aug. 6, 2014. (Credit: Newsday / Sandra Stelmach)

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Republican congressional candidate Bruce Blakeman continued Wednesday to pressure his Democratic opponent Kathleen Rice to detail her time as co-chair of a shuttered state anti-corruption commission — this time raising previous political contributions to Rice from members of a law firm the commission investigated.

Blakeman, a former presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, is facing Rice, the Nassau district attorney, in the 4th District race to succeed Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola).

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At a news conference in Mineola — his second in a week on the topic — Blakeman said Rice should explain her role, if any, in subpoenas the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption issued to Weitz & Luxenberg, a personal injury law firm that employs Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Prior to Rice's stint at the commission, top lawyers at Weitz and their family members contributed a combined total of nearly $300,000 to Rice’s unsuccessful bid for state attorney general in 2010 and her district attorney campaigns. The Manhattan-based firm was one of many politically connected entities that received subpoenas from the commission Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo formed last year. Cuomo disbanded the panel earlier this year.

A New York Times story last month said Cuomo’s office “deeply compromised” the commission’s work by “objecting” when it focused on groups with political ties to Cuomo. The story did not mention Weitz & Luxenberg.

Blakeman repeatedly has tried to connect Rice to the controversy over the commission’s work, but Rice has declined to comment on her work as co-chair, or to release her emails relating to the commission, citing U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s ongoing probe into the disbanding of the panel.

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Rice's campaign has said that she is assisting the federal investigation. One email obtained by The Times shows that Rice had questioned the resistance a commission investigator had reported receiving regarding a proposed subpoena to the Real Estate Board of New York, whose members have been Cuomo supporters.

In addition to the email obtained by the Times, Blakeman said that Rice needs to release all of her commission communications to fully explain her decisions as co-chair.

Referring to the Weitz subpoena, Blakeman said Wednesday: “We don’t know if she recused herself, we don’t know if she gave somebody a heads-up, we don’t know if she discussed what the contents of the subpoena would be ... She has an obligation to the voters to come clean and explain exactly what her role was.”

Rice spokesman Eric Phillips responded: “Kathleen Rice has never accepted a penny from anyone she’s investigating, and she’s always recused herself when dealing with those who have supported her in the past. After several failed bids for office across the state and in New York City, Bruce Blakeman's reinvention campaign apparently thinks voters appreciate smears and unproven innuendo. Kathleen trusts that voters prefer honesty and ideas.”

Rice, in an interview with an Albany television state last year, said she would not allow her relationships with previous campaign contributors to influence commission decisions.

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“I have been very careful to ensure that our communications don’t go to people that this commission is reaching out to,” Rice said to WNYT. “To the extent that the commission reaches out to people who have supported me in the past, I have instituted a policy where I recuse myself from any consideration of that matter, and that’s how we’ve taken care of those issues.”

Blakeman said Wednesday that he believed Rice is free to speak more specifically about her role on the panel and is “hiding behind” the federal probe.

Phillips, Rice's spokesman, said: “D.A. Rice is a prosecutor assisting and helping to preserve the confidentiality of an investigation, and if Bruce Blakeman thinks it’s more important for her to debunk his political cheap shots than it is for her to uphold her oath as a prosecutor, he’s just proven himself inarguably unqualified for office.”

Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group said that in this situation, it “might be most helpful if the U.S. attorney could give guidelines as to how far the players can go” in speaking about their roles.

Absent that, he said Rice’s ability to disclose information “depends on what she’s being asked.

“It would make sense for her to withhold information that might be useful to the U.S. attorney’s office that might otherwise cause problems,” Horner said. “That being said, there may be other areas where the U.S. attorney’s office perhaps wouldn’t care if she gave her general impression of things.”

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