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Gazette Endorsement: Wofford will be a force as AG

Gazette Endorsement: Wofford will be a force as AG

Republican candidate for attorney general will bring independence and drive
Gazette Endorsement: Wofford will be a force as AG
Keith Wofford speaks with speaks with residents of Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood Oct. 4
Photographer: GABRIELLA ANGOTTI-JONES/New York Times

Keith Wofford isn’t waiting around for the governor and the Legislature to pass anti-corruption legislation.

He’s not waiting for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to build a case. He’s not going to wait for someone else to do it for him.

He understands that corruption in government doesn’t just hurt our state’s reputation. It also hurts the economy and jobs by contributing to a crisis of confidence in state government from business. It hurts taxpayers by driving up costs on government-sponsored projects by depriving taxpayers of the best, least expensive contractors in favor of those that contribute the most money to public officials or who have the best connections.

Both the Republican Wofford and his Democratic opponent in the race, New York City Public Advocate Letitia “Tish” James, are smart and talented and have a clear vision for the office.

But of the two candidates, Keith Wofford has the skills, the legal experience, the independence and the drive that New Yorkers have been lacking in state government’s law enforcement arm when it comes to rooting out corruption in Albany.

Beyond that, though, Wofford has a wider vision for the office and its impact on New Yorkers beyond just its authority to prosecute and punish.

The Harvard-educated Wofford says the state’s attorney general doesn’t have to wait for legislative reforms to be effective — citing several existing state laws and regulations that he can use now to get at the problems.

For instance, under municipal law, the attorney general already has the power to review government contracts.

He’d like to use his statutory authority to create a “red flag” list of contracts that might indicate corruption — such as contracts in which there is only one bidder and those involving large campaign contributors.

As a partner at Ropes & Gray, a large Manhattan law firm specializing in credit law, he has experience reviewing contracts and bids. That experience makes it more likely he’ll be able to spot issues where taxpayers are vulnerable and prevent the awarding of bids and contracts that are likely to lead to trouble.

The editorial board also liked his approach to reining in the AG’s office of what he called “business prosecutions” — using the threat of criminal prosecution in civil cases to extract fines from businesses repeatedly for political purposes and for padding the state budget. The impact of that approach, he says, discourages businesses from wanting to operate in New York and hurts the economy. That’s not to say he won’t go after businesses for illegal practices, but he’ll limit them to cases where there are actual crimes and victims.

James also has vowed to fight corruption in state government, and she supports calls for more transparency and accountability. She supports legislation designed to discourage and prevent corruption such as closing the LLC loophole and restoring the Moreland Commission to independently investigate complaints against state officials. 

She says she wants to take a more reasoned and judicious approach to attorney general investigations into businesses, but not necessarily cut back on them. But we’re afraid that could lead to her opening too many cases and not having the manpower and time to handle all of them. Wofford’s approach is in line with a more refined use of the AG’s powers.

And while James, like Wofford, says she favors an independent attorney general’s office, she’s received strong support from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and many of the same institutions that support Democratic politicians.

That could be a challenging political tight-rope for her to walk, especially if Democrats hold the governorship and Assembly and regain the Senate. Even with the utmost integrity and the best of intentions, one could reasonably question how independent she really can be.

Wofford, a Buffalo native, has no such ties, so voters might be less skeptical about his intent to be independent.

New York has an opportunity to start fresh with a new attorney general.

We want to get the best qualified, most independent, most aggressive attorney general possible.

Our state needs someone calling balls and strikes, Wofford says.

When voters go to the polls on Nov. 6 to select a new state attorney general, they should put Wofford behind the plate.
 

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