NEW YORK – At Thursday’s debate in front of reporters and editors from the city’s ethnic media outlets, the four men seeking the Democratic nomination for New York attorney general competed over who was the most immigrant-friendly in the group. (The sole female candidate, Kathleen Rice, did not participate.)
The AG’s office was under-the-radar from many New Yorkers until the last two office-holders elevated the profile of the position. Eliot Spitzer used it as a stepping stone to become governor (for a little while) and current AG Andrew Cuomo is attempting to do the same thing. In 2010 it’s a hotly contested race with each candidate striving to show how progressive he or she is.
The debate was sponsored by the New York Community Media Alliance. Right off the bat, moderator David Mark Greaves, publisher/editor-in-chief of Our Time Press, asked the candidates what they thought about SB 1070, the infamous Arizona law targeting undocumented immigrants, and the NYPD’s policy on keeping a “stop and frisk” database. Across the board, these Democrats were against both.
Next, the candidates were asked to address how they would protect undocumented immigrants from workplace abuse and exploitation.
“By the time I’m done with being attorney general I hope people regard wage theft in the same way they regard car theft!” said Eric Schneiderman, currently a state senator.
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky took a more philosophical approach. “The real question is how can we convince people with undocumented status that the government is there to protect them.” If elected, he promised to pave a path for undocumented immigrants to be able to report crimes without fear of being deported. Political newcomer attorney Sean Coffey concurred. Former New York State Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo also chimed in, adding that language access is really important in the interface between government and immigrant communities.
When the candidates were quizzed on how much effort they’d put into reforming city agencies, Dinallo was adamant, saying “I’m the only candidate who has stood up to Wall Street and health insurers.”
When the floor was opened up to questions from the audience, Ari Kagan of the Russian-language paper Vecherniy New York jumped up and demanded to know what attention the candidates had paid to ethnic media. He noted that despite high-profile endorsements for other candidates, it had been New York’s ethnic communities that had gotten Comptroller John Liu elected, the first Asian American to hold city-wide office in New York.
Sean Coffey proudly responded that he is the son of immigrants (Irish ones). “So I know all about the immigrant experience,” he said. Coffey told the crowd he has the endorsement of the Irish Voice, and gave his first interview to an Albanian paper.
Brodsky talked about his support in the Russian community; Coffey spoke about being invited to an Albanian luncheon; and Schneiderman about getting an endorsement from El Diario.
A reporter from a Chinese-language daily stood and bluntly asked if the other three candidates feel threatened by Schneiderman, since he’s picked up so many endorsements (including one from the New York Times). Swiftly, Schneiderman looked at her and said in Mandarin, “that’s a good question!” eliciting laughter, and impressed glances, from many in the audience.
Abu Taher, executive editor of The Weekly Bangla Patrika, a Bangladeshi newspaper, brought up the proposed Park51 Islamic center and mosque in downtown Manhattan, and the Bangladeshi cab driver who was recently stabbed after being asked if he was Muslim.
“The nuts feel empowered,” said Brodsky. But the Assemblyman was careful not to say he outright supported the mosque–possibly because it would endanger his support in the Russian Jewish community, which reporter Ari Kagan told Fi2W is almost entirely against the project. The other candidates were clearer in their support for the Islamic center, with Schneiderman saying he’d create a “religious rights division” in his government if elected.
The last questions were about youth programs and the candidates’ relationship with Wall Street. The debate was broadcast live on Manhattan Neighborhood Network.
Voters will choose a Democratic candidate in the New York Primary on September 14.