All five Democratic candidates for New York attorney general promise to make fighting government corruption a high priority, as polls have long shown New Yorkers desperately want.
But voters lately have also pushed candidates on a new issue: How to deal with a proposed Islamic center near ground zero that would include a mosque.
Candidates Eric Dinallo, Sean Coffey and Richard Brodsky say they would investigate funding for the $100 million Park51 project a few blocks from ground zero. Kathleen Rice would investigate if there was evidence of wrongdoing, and Eric Schneiderman says he would probe funding if a concern were raised or as part of a broader investigation into funds moving through New York to support terrorism.
The winner of the Sept. 14 primary will face Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, a Republican, in the Nov. 2 general election. Donovan has said that the mosque should be built elsewhere but that he currently sees no reason to investigate funding.
Government corruption remains a major issue in the campaign, and polls show the public holds Albany in low esteem and ethics and corruption cases are driving approval ratings for the Legislature to all-time lows. The candidates' backgrounds and plans include:
— Nassau County District Attorney Rice said she's the only candidate who has conducted criminal corruption investigations of members of her own political party, including convictions of building officials in North Hempstead. She would seek the authority from the Legislature to become the primary jurisdiction in public corruption cases.
— Former Insurance Superintendent Dinallo of Manhattan, who teaches ethics at the New York University business school, said he wouldn't wait for lawmakers to give new powers to the attorney general's office, though that would be the preference. Instead, he said the next governor can grant the attorney general more authority to prosecute all public corruption cases.
— Former federal prosecutor Coffey said he will seek legislation to allow the attorney general to bring public corruption cases without referrals from the governor, and called for full public disclosure of legislators' clients, including law clients.
— Assemblyman Brodsky of Westchester County led efforts to rein in the state's sprawling shadow government. He sponsored laws requiring detailed accounting from hundreds of state and local entities that manage economic development projects, transit systems and other quasi-governmental operations.
— State Sen. Schneiderman of Manhattan led the Senate investigation that despite resistance from Democratic leadership forced the expulsion of Sen. Hiram Monserrate, a fellow Democrat convicted of misdemeanor assault in a domestic incident.
But the Islamic center is the hottest new issue in the campaign.
"Religious freedom is what this country is all about," Schneiderman said in a WABC-TV debate. He said he wouldn't "second guess" the Manhattan community board that approved the project.
"The mosque being built in that area is offensive to me, as a matter of my role as a citizen," said Brodsky, saying he would investigate its funding sources. "The law will be applied to those folks as it would be applied to any other group ... without fear or favor."
Dinallo said the funding "needs to be looked at" but just because it's a mosque "is not a reason to put in such a deep investigation for that purpose alone."
Rice said freedom of religion is a bedrock of society. She said she would investigate if it was warranted, but "in the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing, or of breaking of any law, that bedrock needs to be preserved."
"I would go ahead and permit it to be built," said Coffey. But he added: "I would also pursue investigation of the funding ... I'd pursue it very aggressively."
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, is running for governor.