Attorney general candidates tag-team against Teachout in first televised debate

Four Democratic candidates for state attorney general sparred Tuesday over who’s best-equipped to take on President Trump, Wall Street, pervy politicians and Albany itself.  As the candidates for A.G. — Public Advocate Letitia James, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout and former Cuomo aide Leecia Eve — faced off in their first televised debate a little more than two weeks before primary day, it was Teachout who seemed to attract more critical attention than Trump.

When each candidate had an opportunity to question one of their rivals, James, Maloney and Eve each of the hopefuls took aim at Teachout. “My question is to Professor Teachout,” James said, citing the “scourge of gun violence” and asking, at length, about Teachout’s past opposition to the N.Y. SAFE Act, a 2013 gun control bill passed after the Newtown mass shooting.

Teachout said she supported a ban on assault weapons and didn’t oppose the measure; rather, she was “critical of the process in which it was passed.” But when it was Maloney’s turn, Teachout was faced with the same question: “Yeah, I have a question. Why didn’t you answer Tish James’s question?” he asked. Maloney argued that Teachout had been in a tough congressional race in a Republican-heavy part of the Hudson Valley where many residents own guns, and he accused her of saying what voters may have wanted to hear.

“I think that you should just admit that you blew it and you’re pretty good on guns,” Maloney said. Teachout said she had an F from the NRA in 2016 and still does, and that she objected to the bill’s passage without hearings. “I think that the long-term legitimacy of laws depends upon actually have a little time to read the bill,” she said. Eve, too, directed her question at Teachout — launching into a stinging question about Teachout’s previous unsuccessful runs for governor and congress, and her exploration of a congressional run out of state.

Teachout said she stepped up to oppose Gov. Cuomo in 2014 when no one else would — and that she cared deeply about the “corruption crisis” in the city and state. “And yes, I’m persistent,” Teachout said. Teachout said she was “flattered by the attention,” but the focus was not unexpected. While James has the most institutional support — including that of Cuomo, in recent weeks Teachout has been gaining momentum, locking up endorsements from newspapers and from one New York city councilman who had previously endorsed James.

Even before the question-and-answer portion, Teachout was a target. Maloney knocked her for accepting corporate contributions in the past, though she doesn’t anymore. And James repeatedly referred to her as “Professor Teachout.”“I am a professor,” Teachout said. “You know who else was a professor? Barack Obama.” James was the target of several daggers as well — particularly because of her closeness to Cuomo.

“It has been unprecedented for a governor of New York to handpick an attorney general and to fund-raise for an attorney general,” Maloney said. “You’ve got to tell the Governor to butt out.” James said her independence was above reproach. “The office of attorney general is independent from the office of the governor, and I don’t believe that anyone can question my independence,” James said.

The candidates are looking to take over the job vacated by former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman — who resigned after a bombshell report alleged he physically abused several women with whom he had romantic relationships.

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