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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Kathleen Rice's Moreland role will generate a lot of spin

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice outside the

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice outside the Nassau County Court in Mineola on June 6, 2014. Credit: Howard Schnapp

One year ago this month, as he trumpeted the formation of his Moreland Commission on Public Corruption, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appointed Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice as one of its three co-chairs.

She was quoted as hailing Cuomo's "leadership on this important issue" and as looking forward "to working with some of the best law enforcement and public policy professionals in this state."

By now the defunct panel's less-than-glorified outcome has turned controversial. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has been exploring its demise earlier this year. Details are still emerging of how Cuomo's office micromanaged those professionals, who fell into serious infighting, and steered probers away from potentially embarrassing him -- then closed up shop in a legislative deal that left good government advocates dissatisfied.

Rice left the commission in January, before its final phaseout, to run for Congress. Now the question becomes whether her Moreland role enhances her resume, as was expected -- or proves a political burden. Rice, Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are the only Moreland figures seeking election in November.

Reacting in the wake of an extensive newspaper account on the "hobbled" panel, lawyer Bruce Blakeman -- Rice's out-funded Republican opponent in the 4th Congressional District race -- sought to weld the negative publicity to Rice.

Through spokesman Matt Coleman, Blakeman said Rice "must explain why she remained a silent bystander as top New York Democrats repeatedly muscled the anti-corruption commission that she co-chaired into a lap dog for the governor's office."

"If we couldn't trust Kathleen Rice to stand up to political pressure," Blakeman declared, "how can we trust her to stand up to the special interests and fight for middle-class taxpayers in Washington?"

But Eric Phillips, a campaign spokesman for Rice, in part cites the same story to conclude: "Kathleen's bold investigations resulted in scores of criminal referrals."

With Rice in Israel Wednesday, Phillips said "she was aggressively resistant to outside influence." He accused Blakeman of trying to distort her record.

According to The New York Times, a big rift arose between the commission's executive director, Regina Calcaterra of New Suffolk, and its chief investigator, E. Danya Perry, who complained of interference. Perry forwarded to Rice a string of emails about her bid to subpoena a major retailer about possible links between campaign contributions and a tax credit Cuomo proposed.

Rice passed it along to both her co-chairs and wrote: "Danya can't be prevented from doing the most basic and noncontroversial aspects of her job . . . Thoughts?"

For what it's worth, this small snapshot suggests Rice supported Perry's position. Her role in Moreland will surely continue to generate spin and counter-spin -- and seems bound to come up in debates as the election nears.

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