Kathleen Rice, candidate for Attorney General, walks through the first...

Kathleen Rice, candidate for Attorney General, walks through the first day of the 2010 New York State Democratic Convention. (May 25, 2010) Credit: Photo by Howard Schnapp

Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice won't rule out a future run for governor.

She revealed her position last night during a Citizens Union debate among the five candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for state attorney general. When the candidates were asked if they would ever seek the Executive Mansion, four said they would not.

But Rice told the crowd at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan, "I think that these kind of pledges are all show. It is ridiculous to say to someone, make a pledge now . . . which is going to preclude you from doing anything in the future."

The distinction was one of few substantive disagreements among the candidates, most of whom were meeting for their third debate in two days. Rice, who emerged last week with a fundraising advantage and leading in the polls, skipped two Tuesday debates.

But while Rice refused to call herself the front-runner after last night's event, she acted like it during the proceedings.

She warned in her opening statement that the others are all gunning for her.

"What you're going to hear tonight is legislators and insiders attacking a record that they know is resonating," Rice said.

Despite that prediction, attacks on Rice were few during the two-hour event, which focused on how the candidates would disentangle the various legal conflicts of interest in state government.

Not until former federal prosecutor Sean Coffey, seeking to establish his outsider credentials, chided her for excessive ambition in his closing statement did any candidate directly criticize her.

"You have two options," said Coffey, raised in Hempstead Village. "You can pick from folks who are in the political sphere or you can pick me. This is District Attorney Rice's third race in five years, and she's already looking at the governor's mansion."

As they have throughout the campaign, the candidates sought to portray themselves as the most able to rid state government of its long-standing corruption.

Assemb. Richard Brodsky (D-Greenburgh) cited his three decades of political experience as helpful in navigating Albany's labyrinthine networks. Former Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo said if elected he would prosecute "public integrity case after public integrity case." State Sen. Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan) touted his leadership in the expulsion of former state Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-Jackson Heights). Coffey said he'd bring "a steel broom" to the Capitol.

Rice then echoed the last Nassau official to run for governor, former County Executive Thomas Suozzi: "I can do it because I've done it," she said, using the campaign motto from Suozzi's failed 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary bid against Eliot Spitzer.

Rice said afterward she was unaware of her words' resemblance to Suozzi's.

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