Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice displayed a “lack of leadership” as a co-chair of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Moreland Commission, which was tasked with investigating public corruption, her likely Democratic congressional opponent charged Friday.
Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), who plans to run a Democratic primary against Rice to succeed Rep. Carolyn McCarthy in Nassau’s 4th district, fired his most aggressive salvo of the campaign.
“I believe the Moreland Commission failed because of Kathleen Rice’s lack of leadership,” Abrahams said in a statement to Newsday. “Despite exorbitant amounts of public corruption throughout the state, the commission discovered nothing. This is equivalent to being unable to find sand on a beach.”
The two Republican candidates in the race, former County Legislative Presiding Officer Bruce Blakeman and New Hyde Park attorney Frank Scaturro, also leveled criticism at Rice.
Abrahams’ comments came one day after Rice announced that she had raised nearly $1.5 million for her congressional bid in under three months – a striking figure that positioned her as one of the House’s top funded candidates this year. Abrahams has yet to disclose his fundraising haul.
“Kathleen has spent her career combating corruption, while Abrahams and Blakeman have spent their careers playing partisan politics,” said Rice spokesman Eric Phillips. “It’s surprising Abrahams is partnering with Tea Party Republicans to criticize Governor Cuomo, but it’s not surprising the Abrahams-Blakeman plan is to sling mud at Kathleen.”
In December, the commission issued a preliminary report that criticized the “pay to play” culture in Albany and found unnamed state lawmakers had misused state grants, campaign contributions and reimbursements.
The report recommended public financing of campaigns to limit the influence of big donors, closing loopholes that allow companies to ignore current state contribution limits and toughening bribery penalties.
Cuomo disbanded the panel earlier this month as part of a deal with state legislators to beef up enforcement at the state Board of Elections.
On Thursday, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said that he would not rule out investigating whether Cuomo or his aides improperly intervened in the commission’s activities. Bharara said “there was an appearance that cases were bargained away in exchange for a political deal.”
Rice stepped down from her role as a commission co-chair prior to announcing her run for Congress in January.
Blakeman Friday questioned the appropriateness of Rice raising money for a congressional run while still a prosecutor.
“I think there’s a legitimate question that people could ask about how she was able to raise more money than any other Congressional candidate in the U.S. for this filing period,” Blakeman said.
Phillips responded: “Fundraising takes hard work, a record of accomplishment, and a deep and diverse network of supporters. If Tea Party Bruce Blakeman is upset that he can’t match Kathleen’s fundraising success, it’s because he's failed on at least one of these requirements.”
Scaturro, a New Hyde Park attorney who is planning to run a primary against Blakeman, said he was “dismayed” at Rice’s record as district attorney prosecuting high-level public corruption cases. He pointed to the lack of criminal charges against former Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Dale stemming from a witness intimidation case during last year’s county executive race.
“I think we've seen a real deficiency there,” Scaturro said, citing what he called “a noticeable absence of any investigative or prosecutorial activity in the realm of public corruption at the highest levels.”
Rice issued a report that said the conduct in the Dale case raised serious questions about political influence, but found there was no evidence of crimes.