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

Four years ago, Kathleen Rice, Nassau County's first female district attorney, ordered a dozen part-time attorneys in her office - many of them working mothers - to work full-time or quit.

Now, as Rice juggles her regular job with campaigning for the Democratic nomination for state attorney general, some of her opponents have raised the flextime issue, hoping to make inroads with female voters. Still, Rice has the endorsement of one of the grandes dames of feminism, Gloria Steinem.

Clearly, there is reason for concern about how the female vote will break in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary.

In both Nassau and Suffolk, Democratic female voters outnumber males. And experts say they are more likely to vote than men. In the 2006 Democratic primary for attorney general and governor, for instance, women accounted for 59 percent of voters in Nassau and Suffolk, records show.

But experts say those who court the female vote should not assume women select candidates based on traditional home and family issues. Nor do women automatically vote for female candidates, pollsters say.

And flextime will be just one of a smorgasbord of issues - including crime, the economy, and government corruption - that female voters consider before pulling the lever on primary day.

Steven Greenberg of the Siena Research Institute said women "will vote for someone who will do the best job for them and their families" on varied topics.

"I don't ask women to vote for me because I'm a woman," Rice said. "Women, like men, are interested in kid safety on the Internet, good education and reproductive health care."

Following complaints about her flextime changes, Rice opened a unit that allowed some assistant DAs to work flexible or part-time hours on cases not requiring a traditional full-time schedule.

Still, behind the scenes, supporters of some of Rice's male opponents say she could grab a large chunk of the female vote simply because of her gender. And some candidates have seized on her flextime policy as a means of attack.

"Real women have made real choices based on their ability to be employed under a flextime system," said Assemb. Richard Brodsky, one of Rice's opponents from Westchester. "Whatever the goals of the change were [in Rice's office], it had a human cost."

Candidate Sean Coffey, a former federal prosecutor from Westchester, called Rice's policy "disappointing. If my daughter wants to serve in the district attorney's office and be a mom at the same time, then I want her to have that opportunity."

James Freedland, spokesman for Rice opponent state Sen. Eric Schneiderman of Manhattan, said, "Eric would never even consider making women choose between their families and careers."

Eric Dinallo, a former state insurance superintendent and candidate from Manhattan, had no comment.

As the five Democratic candidates gear up for the primary, they've established groups that target women for financial support, volunteer work and their votes. Breakfasts, garden parties and fundraising events are all part of the strategy.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who backs Schneiderman, dismissed the notion that female voters are likely to support female candidates. "As a New Yorker and as a woman," Quinn said, she cares about issues such as mass transit fare hikes, gay marriage equality, abortion rights and gay and lesbian rights.

Schneiderman, whom The New York Times endorsed last week, said women and men "talk to me about the same issues - economic issues, corruption in government, illegal guns."

Coffey, who grew up on Long Island, said the women he has met have raised questions about housing, predatory lending and the need for government reform.

One Coffey supporter, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn), said she likes his stance on immigration issues.

"He was the first one [of the candidates] to come out immediately and say the Arizona law was ill-conceived," Velazquez said, referring to a law requiring police to ask about the immigration status of people stopped for other reasons.

Dinallo said he tries to appeal to women on a variety of issues. "They know how hard it is to do many things well at once," he said. "Women get it in a way that men have had a privileged history of having not to get."

Brodsky (D-Westchester) is drawing support from groups like the Westchester Coalition for Legal Abortion.

"Women will listen for authenticity," Brodsky said. "It matters less that you're a fancy-stepper."

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