Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice has delayed making an...

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice has delayed making an annoucement that she plans to run for state attorney general. (Feb. 11, 2010.) Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice tried to seize the mantle as Andrew Cuomo's heir apparent during the first post-convention forum featuring the five Democratic attorney general candidates Monday.

Rice mentioned Cuomo's name five times before anyone else said it once during the Manhattan forum. She repeatedly echoed Cuomo's gubernatorial campaign theme of restoring trust in state government.

"The No. 1 issue facing New York State this year is going to be restoring confidence in state government," Rice said. "I don't believe that there is any other issue that affects taxpayers in the state of New York as much as that."

The five candidates, Rice, Assemb. Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester), Sean Coffey, former state Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo and state Sen. Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan) - did more agreeing than debating during the eight-question, 58-minute session.

The event was hosted by the Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal law firm.

Schneiderman, who with Rice is considered a front-runner, countered Rice's affinity for Cuomo with reminders that Schneiderman led the State Senate investigation into the expelled Sen. Hiram Monserrate.

Answering a question about tools the attorney general needs to prosecute financial crimes, he said the office has all it needs.

"I don't think we need new statutes for the attorney general's office to start enforcing the laws," Schneiderman said. "It's more a matter of political will and the willingness to stand up to folks."

Dinallo, of Manhattan, said the best way to root out Albany corruption is to transform the post of state legislator from part-time to full-time.

"Every single piece of political corruption in Albany comes from their outside business interests," he said. "Say what you want about Washington, one thing you don't see generally is their hand in the cookie jar of outside business interests, because there can't be any."

Coffey, a Bronxville lawyer who is primarily self-funding his campaign, called for public financing for the attorney general and comptroller races beginning in 2014.

"The amount of money that can be raised for a statewide office is just obscene," he said.

Brodsky drew the biggest laughs - both nervous and genuine - during the session when he divided his four opponents into categories of "able" and "nice." Coffey and Schneiderman fell into the "nice" column, with Dinallo and Rice "able."

"Structural reform, the kind of thing I want to do, that transitional transformational vision is what distinguishes me from my able and nice colleagues," he said.

After the debate, Schneiderman said he was not unnerved by Rice's attempts to tie herself to Cuomo. "It takes a lot more than that to freak me out," he said. "Richard Brodsky calling me nice, that freaked me out."

Rice spokesman Shams Tarek said Rice fully supports Cuomo. Besides, he added, "Able is better than nice."

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