ALBANY - The most active campaign for statewide office this year doesn't have any prominent candidates yet and may not even have an incumbent.
This is the odd world of the race for New York attorney general, in which at least a half-dozen lawyers and prosecutors are considering a run - but only if popular Attorney General Andrew Cuomo runs for governor.
The once almost-anonymous job has transformed over the past 15 years into a high-profile role as the chief enforcer on Wall Street and in corporate America's boardrooms.
With Cuomo expected to drop a re-election bid and run for governor - whispers he refuses to confirm or deny - at least six people are considering trying to take over his job.
Anxiety about the fact Cuomo has yet to declare led 17 upstate Democratic county chairmen to meet in Albany yesterday to discuss how to make the party's 2010 ticket as strong as possible in light of recent Republican victories in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester and Massachusetts. The meeting occurred over the objections of the party's establishment, including state and Nassau County chairman Jay Jacobs.
Cuomo has built on the office's reputation with headline-grabbing lawsuits and settlements. He has investigated national issues such as student loan officers, Medicaid fraud, online predators and players in the subprime mortgage industry implosion. But Republican Attorney General Dennis Vacco in the 1990s and Democrat Robert Abrams before him first started moving the office from that of a consumer protection agent and the state's civil lawyer to one of a formidable activist and enforcer.
Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer then was elected and became the fabled "Sheriff of Wall Street."
"The office evolves as society evolves," Spitzer said. "And whoever is attorney general needs to be nimble enough to understand what is working, but to know that issues change."
The 2010 race has a field that includes lawmakers, district attorneys and a former state agency head, and has attracted donations from Wall Street, including some Forbes-list favorites.
Eric Dinallo, a potential candidate and former superintendent of the state Insurance Department, has the most financial support so far from an industry that largely viewed the office with contempt under Spitzer. That's despite his history as a key member of Spitzer's team - as insurance superintendent, he was credited with helping to save the massive AIG corporation.
Kathleen Rice, the Nassau County district attorney, is weighing a run. Other candidates include state Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester County Democrat; Democratic state Sen. Eric Schneiderman, who represents part of Manhattan and the Bronx; and Sean Coffey, a lawyer and former Navy pilot.
As for Cuomo, he says he's focusing on his current job, not politics. If he runs for a second term, the would-be candidates said they won't run.
In the hunt
The Democrats who have either announced their candidacy for attorney general or are exploring a possible candidacy:
Nassau County district attorney Kathleen Rice
Sean Coffey, a lawyer and former Navy pilot
State Sen. Eric Schneiderman, who represents part of Manhattan and the Bronx
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester County
Eric Dinallo, former superintendent of the state Insurance Department