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Ex-Pataki aide John Cahill to battle Schneiderman for NY attorney general

John Cahill, left, listens to then-Gov. George Pataki

John Cahill, left, listens to then-Gov. George Pataki at the State Capitol in Albany on Wednesday, May 26, 2004. Credit: AP / Jim McKnight

ALBANY -- Former Pataki administration aide John Cahill on Sunday announced he will challenge Democratic Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on a platform that would seek to cross party lines.

He said he would work to open large areas of the Southern Tier and Central New York to drilling for natural gas trapped deep in shale deposits. That would require the hydrofracking opposed by environmental groups that make up the base of Democratic support. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has put off making a decision on the politically dicey issue throughout his term.

"When you look at the science and place the interests and prosperity of New Yorkers first, it is clear that the question on shale gas isn't 'if,' it's 'how,' " said Cahill, former environmental conservation commissioner.

Cahill, 55, of Yonkers, also spoke of being one of six children and his mother, an Irish immigrant who settled in the Bronx.

"It's clear that the optimism which was so prevalent in my mother's generation has, in subsequent generations, been replaced by distrust, anger and resentment," Cahill said.

"Whether it's the wolves of Wall Street or big government on State Street, no one seems to be interested in the concerns of regular New Yorkers," he said in a direct shot at liberal Democrats who hold all statewide offices, control the Assembly and share Senate control.

Cahill also was critical of former Democratic attorneys general Eliot Spitzer and Andrew M. Cuomo, saying they used the important office as "little more than a political steppingstone to the governor's mansion . . ."

Cahill sought to distinguish himself from Schneiderman, an ex-Manhattan state senator, by burnishing his environmental credentials. In New York, conservation issues have always crossed party lines and Republican Gov. George Pataki's administration preserved large tracts of wilderness from development.

"If there's one thing we proved, it's that economic development and environmental conservation can and must be accomplished in tandem -- they are interconnected and interrelated objectives," he said.

Cahill focused on education, saying every child, including undocumented immigrants, must have a solid foundation -- an issue led by Democrats -- in public, private, parochial and charter schools.

Cahill was once Pataki's chief of staff and served as his environmental conservation commissioner. Cahill is now Pataki's law partner in Manhattan specializing in environmental law.

The state Republican convention is next week in Rye, in Westchester County, to settle on a ticket of candidates for the November elections. No other Republican has announced a candidacy for attorney general, which could help Cahill avoid making conservative stands that might be necessary to win a GOP primary, but hurt in attracting Democrats in the general election.

He will face an uphill battle in the state, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-1 ratio and where Schneiderman had $6 million in his campaign account as of the January filings.

But Republicans see Schneiderman, 59, as vulnerable because of low name recognition in statewide polls. In 2010, the former state senator from Manhattan emerged from a Democratic primary race to beat Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan in the election.

On Friday, in an unusual strike before a candidate had announced candidacy, former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn blasted Cahill as she supported Schneiderman.

"As a pro-choice, New York woman, I am very worried about him entering the race," said Quinn, a leader among liberal Democrats statewide, in a teleconference with reporters Friday.

"New Yorkers should know that whether it's ensuring our children have access to a quality education or protecting the rights of same-sex couples to marry, as attorney general, John Cahill will enforce all the laws of the state of New York," said Cahill spokesman David Catalfamo.

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