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Longtime Gay Democratic Activist’s Choice for AG

Democratic attorney general hopeful Zephyr Teachout.
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Progressive LGBTQ voters can have substantial influence in the wide-open race for the Democratic nomination for New York state attorney general. Polling shows 45 to 50 percent of Democratic voters are undecided on the race, and holding the election on a Thursday (September 13, to avoid the Jewish holiday on Tuesday) likely means turnout will be quite low.

I support Zephyr Teachout. Given the two most important priorities for a new attorney general — using New York’s power to hold Donald Trump accountable (especially if Robert Mueller is fired) and cleaning up the corrupt political culture of Albany (the leaders of both the Assembly and the Senate and top aides to Cuomo have all recently been convicted of felony corruption) — Teachout is the perfect candidate for this moment. As the New York Times said in endorsing her, “the office is a potential firewall against an out-of-control president and a historically corrupt New York State government.”

Teachout is already on the legal team behind the current lawsuit by the District of Columbia and Maryland charging Trump with violating the Constitution’s “emoluments clause” by accepting payments from foreign governments. As a Fordham law professor and author of the book “Corruption in America,” she is one of the country’s leading scholars on the legalized bribery unleashed by the flood of corporate contributions and right-wing “dark money” in our political system. Her formidable energy and focus on these issues is exactly what we need in an attorney general just now. She also has a comprehensive platform on gun violence, criminal justice reform, voter suppression, the environment, and the rights of tenants, immigrants, and workers.

LGBTQ voters might be understandably tempted to vote for Congressmember Sean Patrick Maloney, the only gay candidate in this race, an admirable married family man with three adopted children, and a diverse record of service in the Clinton White House and for two New York governors before entering Congress in 2013. He won renomination for his congressional seat in June, but is simultaneously seeking the state attorney general nomination in September, intending to abandon his congressional nomination only six weeks before the general election if he wins the AG primary. Our desperate national priority is to begin to put some brakes on the lawless Trump administration by winning Democratic control of the US House of Representatives, which may be decided by one or two seats given the huge Republican advantage in gerrymandered districts. Maloney does not have unique qualifications for AG — Teachout is better suited to the current priorities — and it is irresponsible for Maloney to put his congressional seat at risk by these machinations.

Maloney represents a Hudson Valley congressional district carried by Trump, and has had difficult re-elections in the past, winning by less than 1.8 percent in 2014. His relatively centrist record should put him in a strong position to hold the seat this year, but even if he stays in the congressional race, Politico rates his seat only as “likely Democratic,” not “safe.” If Maloney wins the attorney general nomination and abandons his House race shortly before the general election, the House seat could easily be lost to the Republicans. With no strong Democratic candidate ready to step into that House race, Politico reports that putting this seat up for grabs has “Republicans salivating.” Maloney being gay is insufficient reason for LGBTQ voters to support him, and we should pick the best candidate for this moment, as Maloney himself should acknowledge, given that he endorsed Andrew Cuomo over out lesbian candidate Cynthia Nixon for governor.

City Public Advocate Leticia James brings a strong progressive record to the AG race, with admirable work on behalf of tenants, immigrants, children, and criminal justice reform. She is compromised in this race, however, by having abandoned the Working Families Party to join forces with Governor Cuomo and accept fundraising assistance from Cuomo and from real estate interests. This is not the independence we need in our next attorney general, and James would do better to stay as public advocate and compete in 2021 to become New York’s first black woman mayor.

Maloney has also raised huge sums from the real estate and finance industries, and is embroiled in lawsuits challenging his use of $1.425 million in his congressional campaign account for the state AG primary, whereas Teachout is the only candidate in the race who has refused donations from corporate PACs or LLCs, and leads in small-donor contributions.

All the urgent priorities unite in this highly competitive race for the Democratic nomination for attorney general: selecting the candidate best able to use the office to counter Trump, fight political corruption, remain independent of the governor and other Albany leaders, and maximize Democratic chances of winning the US House of Representatives. The best candidate for all of these priorities is Zephyr Teachout, and I am proud to support her for attorney general.

Lawrence Moss is an international human rights lawyer and the former chair of the Reform Caucus of the New York State Democratic Committee.

Updated 1:51 pm, September 7, 2018
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