By Meaghan Dolan
The attorney general seat hasn’t exactly stirred hearts and minds in recent years. The 2002 election didn’t generate much action with incumbent Eliot Spitzer easily rolling over Republican nominee Judge Dora Irizarry with 66 percent of the vote. But this year, with Spitzer moving on to pursue the governor’s seat, it’s a hotly contested race.
The Democratic nominee, former HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo, has so far held Republican candidate Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro at arm’s length in the polls. The foibles of Pirro’s personal life have been splashed across the front pages of nearly every newspaper and magazine in the city. This can only benefit Cuomo, whose advantages already included a statewide majority Democratic voting population and a legacy as Governor Mario Cuomo’s son.
Pirro Runs On Crime
Pirro has a lot of ground to gain in the final days of her campaign. In the latest Marist College poll on Oct. 20, Pirro trailed Cuomo by 20 points, earning the support of just 36 percent of likely voters to Cuomo’s 56 percent.
She’s campaigning on her experience as a crime fighting district attorney.
“Jeanine has demonstrated her commitment to the People of the State of New York and her commitment to the men and women of law enforcement,” New York State Association of Chiefs of Police President David R. Hall said in a statement.
The 55-year-old Pirro was the first woman elected as Westchester’s County Court judge in 1990, Pirro went on to become the county’s first female District Attorney three years later. Pirro headed one of the country’s first domestic violence units in 1978. As DA, she created the Domestic Violence, Child Abuse, Elder Abuse and Sex Crimes Bureaus which, by her tally, have helped over 30,000 victims. Pirro also created a High Technology Crimes Bureau to snare Internet predators.
She also has a success story for the hot-button issue of Medicaid reform. In, 2006 Pirro successfully prosecuted a “medical mill” that issued over $12 million in bogus medical insurance claims.
Despite her impressive record, Pirro’s opponents are quick to point out her headline-making snafus. Pirro is under federal investigation for allegedly asking New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to bug her husband Al Pirro’s boat, in order to catch him in the act of an affair. Marist Poll results showed 47 percent of voters thought Pirro’s actions in the matter were unethical, with 19 percent saying they were illegal.
Cuomo Ahead In Polls
Andrew Cuomo last appeared on the ballot four years ago with a short-lived run for Governor that didn’t make it past the primaries. This time around, Cuomo sailed to a Democratic primary win with 53 percent of the vote against nearest contender Mark Green’s 33 percent. He has consistently led Pirro by large margins in the polls, aided by Pirro’s persistent personal troubles.
Cuomo’s campaign has also been helped by a flood of endorsements. Two recent additions: the New York Post and the Westchester Affiliated Police Associations. While the nod from law enforcement is credited in part to Cuomo’s successful gun buyback program as HUD Secretary under President Bill Clinton, his scandal-free image is undoubtedly a plus. “To us, integrity is the most important qualification for the job,” Robert Buckley, President of the Affiliated Police Associations of Westchester County, said in his endorsement of Cuomo. Buckley went on to cite the wire-tap investigation, tax fraud, and mob-link rumors trailing Pirro as a history inappropriate to an Attorney General.
But Cuomo, 49, is not running as the “Un-Pirro.” He is eager to highlight the political achievements of his eight-year tenure in the Clinton Administration. Cuomo is credited with transforming HUD from an inefficient federal money-pit to a smoothly functioning agency. He has also lobbied for causes that should gibe with Democrat voters: opposing the death penalty, promoting the overturn of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, and proposing stricter gun laws. Many of his campaign promises sound similar to Pirro’s: crack down on Medicaid fraud, reform corruption and waste in Albany and stiffen penalties for domestic violence offenders.
Cuomo has been criticized for not doing enough baby-kissing meet-and-greets during the campaign. He debated Pirro twice—but Pirro challenged him seven times. Cuomo has no plans to debate again as election day draws near. Politicos surmise that Cuomo is hanging back to let Pirro’s campaign collapse under the weight of all the juicy headlines.