By Bill Parry
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) announced last Friday that he would not participate in the Legislature’s process for appointing a new attorney general ahead of November’s general election.
Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood, 73, took over the office after the abrupt resignation of Eric Schneiderman hours after the release of a blockbuster report in the New Yorker May 7 that he allegedly committed violent acts against romantic partners.
“I am grateful to the many leaders who are encouraging me to run for attorney general and intend to give serious consideration to doing so,” Gianaris said. “In the coming days and weeks, I will continue speaking with my supporters and other interested New Yorkers as I decide whether to seek election to the attorney general’s office this year. This is a critical time in New York and a decision that deserves careful thought.”
He added, “As a result, I will not be participating in the expedited legislative selection process.”
Under state law, the Legislature has the authority to appoint an attorney general should the job become vacant and interviews with 13 applicants began Tuesday. City Public Advocate Letitia James also withdrew her name from consideration in the selection process.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) gave his full support to Underwood Tuesday.
“If there’s any justice in the world where we reward people for their experience and longstanding dedication to the public good, then Barbara Underwood should be nominated by both political parties as the next attorney general,” Avella said. “It would be the best thing for the state of New York to have somebody with her experience and apolitical approach to the job. I can’t think of a better attorney general.”
Underwood was the first of 13 attorney general applicants to interview with the bipartisan legislative committee Tuesday. She told the lawmakers she was not interested in running for the office in November and would serve out the rest of Schneiderman’s term if she is appointed interim attorney general.
Meanwhile, Gianaris announced Tuesday the Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations passed his legislation banning state tax dollars from being used to bail out legal expenses incurred by political campaigns by a vote of 7-2. Under current law, politicians can use their campaign committees as legal defense funds if charged with a crime. If acquitted, the campaign committee may recoup attorney’s fees from the state. The politicians can then use that money to run for office or donate to other candidates, according to Gianaris. Former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno did just that in 2014 — donating his windfall of over $1 million from state taxpayers directly to Senate Republicans.
“It’s an outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars for public monies to reimburse criminal defendants’ campaign accounts,” Gianaris said. “Taxpayers should not be paying for the campaigns of those accused of crimes.”
Gianaris’ proposal would prohibit campaign committees from seeking reimbursement from the state for their legal expenses. The legislation moves to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr