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Candidates in AG race: A study in contrasts

NY Attorney General candidates Dan Donovan, left, and

NY Attorney General candidates Dan Donovan, left, and Eric Schneiderman debate in NYC. (Oct. 8, 2010) Photo Credit: The New York Times

Soon after graduating from an elite Manhattan prep school in 1972, Eric Schneiderman began working at a Washington, D.C., abortion clinic - driving to the airport to pick up women who wanted legal procedures at a time when many states still banned them.

Now, Schneiderman, 55, a Democratic state senator, is facing Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, a Republican, to replace Andrew Cuomo as New York attorney general.

Schneiderman - also on the Working Families and Independence lines - routinely pelts Donovan, 53, with news releases criticizing the prosecutor for opposing abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save a woman's life.

"The New York State attorney general is the front line of defense for freedom of choice," Schneiderman says.

Donovan, a Roman Catholic, says his faith would not keep him from protecting a woman's freedom to choose.

"A woman has the right to choose her reproductive health care," says Donovan, who also has the Conservative line. "In our nation, that has been the law of the land for 40 years."

 

Differences of opinion

The two men are a study in contrasts.

Schneiderman hails from Manhattan's West Side and graduated from Amherst College and Harvard Law School. His father is a retired securities lawyer.

Donovan, the son of a longshoreman, grew up on Staten Island. He paid his own way through St. John's University and Fordham University School of Law working at clothing and sporting goods stores.

During the campaign, the candidates' differences over abortion have often taken center stage, overshadowing an attorney general's diverse responsibilities, including protection of consumer rights, defending the state against lawsuits, Medicaid fraud and civil rights.

Kelli Conlin, president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York, which endorsed Schneiderman, says the attorney general must do more than uphold abortion law and should "investigate and make sure women's rights are protected." Schneiderman's father, Irwin, sat on NARAL's board for 10 years.

But Robert Scamardella, president of Staten Island's Molinari Republican Club which has endorsed Donovan, called the abortion issue irrelevant. "Attorneys general don't make law, they enforce it," Scamardella said.

David Birdsell, dean of the Baruch College School of Public Affairs, describes abortion as "a reliable wedge issue."

"Eric Schneiderman clearly wants to make it more of an issue - not because the attorney general's office, at this point, really has anything to do with abortion," Birdsell said.

Robert Morgenthau, a supporter of abortion rights and the Democratic former Manhattan district attorney for whom Donovan worked on narcotics cases for eight years, said: "You don't have to like every law. I think highly of Dan Donovan. He was an all-around good lawyer, good prosecutor."

Robert Abrams, a partner at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan in Manhattan and attorney general from 1979 to 1993, actively pursued anti-abortion activists who tried to prevent clinic access and has endorsed Schneiderman.

"It's not enough to say I'll uphold the law," Abrams said.

 

Fighting fraud, MTA

Donovan, a former Democrat, was also chief of staff to former Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari and president of the state district attorneys association. He describes Schneiderman as left-leaning, an Albany insider whose 12-year state Senate tenure might keep him from pursuing reform in the statehouse.

"We're going to be aggressive on Wall Street and in Albany and on Medicaid fraud," Donovan said.

For his part, Schneiderman depicts Donovan as enmeshed in Staten Island's GOP machine.

Schneiderman has worked as a deputy sheriff and at an international law firm. He fought for taxpayers in lawsuits against the Metropolitan Transit Authority and guided reforms of the Rockefeller drug laws - offering expanded drug treatment as a prison alternative. And he headed the committee that expelled Queens Democrat Hiram Monserrate from the Senate after a domestic assault conviction.

Former New York homeland security chief Michael Balboni, a Long Island Republican, says Schneiderman is "honest, he's forthright."

 

Wall Street reform

Schneiderman and Donovan promise to crack down on Wall Street.

"The next attorney general has to help restore public confidence in the market," Schneiderman said.

Donovan said: "You don't have to destroy an entire industry to rid it of corruption."

The New York Times reported one in four campaign dollars raised by Donovan came from the $17 billion Elliott Management hedge fund. Schneiderman, too, received contributions from Elliott but they were less than 1 percent of his fundraising.

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and U.S. attorney, has endorsed Donovan and says he has an independent streak that has served him well as prosecutor.

Giuliani points to a case in which the grandson of Staten Island Borough President James P. Molinaro and two friends were accused of stabbing another teen. Donovan, a deputy borough president under Molinaro, gave the case to a special prosecutor to avoid a conflict of interest. Molinaro objected and did not back Donovan for re-election as district attorney.

"I really admire that kind of independence," Giuliani said.

An awkward moment for Donovan came when Bernard Kerik, once Giuliani's police commissioner, pleaded guilty to tax fraud and other felony charges. Kerik is serving prison time. Donovan had been friendly with Kerik and says he was unaware of his problems until they became public.

Also on the ballot are Libertarian Party candidate Carl E. Person, of Manhattan, and Freedom Party candidate Ramon J. Jimenez, of the Bronx.

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