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NY’s closest statewide race to get a debate as AG candidates spar

Republican Attorney General candidate John Cahill, left, speaks

Republican Attorney General candidate John Cahill, left, speaks during the New York State Republican Convention in Rye Brook, N.Y., on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, right, speaks during a news conference in New York on Wednesday, June 25, 2014. Credit: AP / Seth Wenig, AP / John Minchillo

ALBANY — The closest statewide race in New York is heating up.

A debate in the attorney general’s race between Democrat Eric T. Schneiderman and Republican challenger John Cahill is expected to be announced within days.

Schneiderman campaign spokesman Peter Ajemian said the campaign is working on details of a debate now.

A Siena College poll released last week found Cahill had cut Schneiderman’s 27-point lead in August to 16 points in September. Cahill has called for several TV debates, which he said are long overdue.

“The silence has been deafening,” said Cahill spokesman David Catalfamo.

Meanwhile, Cahill said he will release his income tax return within days, following a challenge by Schneiderman.

Schneiderman provides his income tax return for public review each year as part of a long-standing practice in Albany for statewide officials.

Last week, the Citizens Action good-government group demanded that Cahill release five years of income tax returns. The group has focused on Cahill’s private practice that the group said includes gas and oil industry clients, which could benefit from proposed gas drilling upstate.

The Long Island Progressive Coalition also pushed Cahill to release his tax records, citing concerns of a conflict of interest because of his energy industry clients, said the group's director, Lisa Tyson.

Cahill is an attorney in Manhattan with former Gov. George Pataki. Cahill, from Yonkers, was a top aide in the Pataki administration with posts including environmental conservation commissioner.

In a debate, Cahill would likely continue his repeated criticism of Schneiderman for refusing to explain his role in the state Moreland Commission on public corruption. Schneiderman sat next to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo when the panel was announced in a press conference in July 2013. Schneiderman also deputized several members to give them the authority to investigate the State Legislature.

Cuomo, however, abruptly shut down the panel and its investigations this year after securing a deal with the legislature on ethics measures.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has taken over the commission’s cases and is investigating how and why the panel was shut down.

Schneiderman has refused to comment on his role or on the demise of the commission, saying he didn’t want to get in the way of the federal probe.

On Monday, Schneiderman gave a speech in an Albany suburb to the NYS Coalition for Excellence in Homeownership Education in which he announced he will release $40 million to protect homeowners. But the news reports were dominated by what came after the speech.

Schneiderman exited through a back door to a waiting vehicle as some reporters pursued, then knocked on the window, asking him questions that included the Moreland issue.

“It's disgraceful,” said Catalfamo, Cahill’s spokesman. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Why is New York's top law enforcement official running away from the press?’"

But Schneiderman had already provided his "no comment" on the Moreland case and his reason for doing so in an August press conference and at some other public events. Schneiderman’s office also notes he has held 43 press conferences around the state this year including 22 since June 1, in addition to impromptu press interviews after speeches.

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