Spin Cycle

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For the third time in two weeks, Republican congressional candidate Bruce Blakeman held a news conference to pressure Democrat Kathleen Rice to answer questions about her time on a shuttered state anti-corruption commission.

Blakeman, a former presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, has seized on the controversy surrounding Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Moreland Commission on public corruption. Rice – the Nassau district attorney – was one of three commission co-chairs before resigning in January to launch her 4th District campaign.

Cuomo disbanded the commission in March after striking a deal with lawmakers for ethics reform. The New York Times reported last month that Cuomo’s office had “deeply compromised” the commission’s work by objecting when it focused on groups with political ties to Cuomo.

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U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is now investigating Cuomo’s disbanding of the commission, and Rice has said she is assisting the investigation. Responding to Blakeman’s calls for her to detail her work on the commission, Rice told Newsday on Monday that “my number one job is to preserve the integrity of that [federal] investigation.”

In the successive news conferences in Mineola, Blakeman has called on Rice to release her correspondence relating to her commission tenure; has noted that a powerful law firm subpoenaed by the commission was previously a large Rice donor; and, on Wednesday, released a letter from his campaign’s “ethics counsel” that claimed Rice could legally speak about her commission work.

“You are a sitting District Attorney and candidate for U.S. Congress and, thus, owe the public disclosure of your role as co-chair of the commission, including any conflicts you had and how you handled those conflicts,” David Grandeau, counsel to the Blakeman campaign, wrote in a letter to Rice.

Grandeau, the former head of the New York State Commission on Lobbying, asked Rice questions including whether she has hired an attorney to represent her in her assistance with the federal probe; who is paying for the attorney, and whether or not she was “offered immunity” as part of her assistance.

“There is no legal basis for your continued refusal to answer these rudimentary questions,” Grandeau wrote.

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Eric Phillips, Rice’s campaign spokesman, responded by again assailing Blakeman for asking Rice to speak about an ongoing federal investigation. He has said that Rice always recused herself when the commission dealt with entities who had previously given to Rice, but did not answer Grandeau’s specific questions about whether Rice is using an attorney in her assistance to the probe.

“Kathleen Rice has spent her entire career prosecuting corrupt officials and fighting for victims of crime. Bruce Blakeman has spent his career as a political insider raising taxes and losing campaigns in New York City and across the state,” Phillips said. “So it’s not surprising that Blakeman wants to compromise a federal investigation, and it’s not surprising Kathleen’s only interest is assisting and preserving the integrity of that investigation. Blakeman’s flailing campaign will spend every day of this race reinventing himself and repackaging these facts as lies, but we don’t think voters will be fooled.”

Blakeman’s continued use of Moreland as a campaign issue comes as Rice has started to pressure Blakeman to detail his position on abortion rights and other women’s health issues. Rice held a news conference Monday to accept the endorsement of pro-choice advocates and challenged Blakeman to say “whether or not he believes in a women’s constitutional right to reproductive health and protecting a woman’s right to contraceptive access.”

Blakeman’s campaign later said Blakeman “supports a woman’s right to choose,” but did not specify his feelings on the Supreme Court’s recent, controversial decision in the “Hobby Lobby” case, in which it ruled that family owned corporations can cite religious beliefs in declining to cover their employees' contraception under the Affordable Care Act.

“The Supreme Court’s ‘Hobby Lobby’ ruling was a victory for discrimination and for those who want to deny us the right to make our own choices about our bodies and our reproductive health,” Rice said earlier this week. “Voters in this district — women and men — have a right to know, if elected, whether Bruce Blakeman will stand with women and our access to critical health care, or with our bosses and his Conservative Party leaders.”

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With Robert Brodsky