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Dem AG candidates target Trump, promise independence from Cuomo

President Donald Trump, shown in upstate Fort Drum

President Donald Trump, shown in upstate Fort Drum on Monday. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY – The four Democrats vying to be the next state attorney general said they wield state laws to force President Donald Trump to divulge his tax returns and they pledged they wouldn’t be controlled by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The Manhattan debate on Tuesday showed little significant differences in the approach by the candidates on major issues in a close, but little watched race. The Democratic primary features Leecia Eve, a Manhattan lawyer who grew up in Buffalo and who worked for former Sen. Hillary Clinton and Cuomo; New York City Public Advocate Letitia James who is endorsed by Cuomo; Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney who worked for President Bill Clinton and Govs. Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson; and Zephyr Teachout who is a Fordham law professor and author of a book on public corruption.

“He has a very strong personality,” said James of Cuomo. “He is also is very peculiar,” she added, without elaborating.

But James said her Brooklyn personality is strong enough to overcome his Queens personality and operate independently.

The other candidates wielded Cuomo’s endorsement against James, the slight favorite in polls that show most New Yorkers are undecided.

“I support many of the things he does, but that doesn’t mean he gets to pick the next attorney general,” said Maloney said. “He needs bumpers round him.”

“I think he’s been a good governor,” Eve said. But she added: “I wouldn’t have closed down the Moreland Commission. I think that was a mistake. I think it was a big mistake.”

She referred to the panel of prosecutors Cuomo appointed in July 2013 to root out corruption in Albany, which he disbanded in March 2014 after he struck a deal with the Legislature on some ethics reforms.

“New York state has radical levels of inequality that flow from corruption from the highest levels and Governor Cuomo has to take responsibility for the corruption scandals we’ve seen over the last eight years,” said Teachout, who lost to Cuomo for governor in 2014. “The next attorney general of New York has be very clear that she is independent.”

The Democrats said combatting Trump on civil rights, immigration, the environment, freedom of the internet and other issues will be a major task for the next attorney general. They also said novel uses of state business and charity laws will force Trump to release his personal income tax returns, which previous presidential candidates of both parties have routinely done.

“We are in a war time for our democracy right now and the next attorney general from the state of New York is arguably the most important legal officer in the country to protect our core rights,” said Teachout, who has been part of a continuing lawsuit against Trump.

“We are at a pivotal point,” said James, “because all our rights are at stake and the White House is an affront to our democracy.”

“What we are confronted with is an extraordinary effort to bring us backward,” said Maloney, who was elected six years ago as the first openly gay congressman from New York. “I’ve been on the front lines with the knuckleheads from the Tea Party and now Donald Trump.”

“It’s outrageous what this president has done and for me, as attorney general, it will be priority one,” Eve said.

They are running for in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary. The winner will take on Republican nominee Keith Wofford, a Manhattan attorney, in November. The job was unexpected vacated in May when Democrat Eric Schneiderman resigned after he was accused of abuse by four women.

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