New York's Democratic Party leaders have decided to put all five candidates for attorney general on the ballot for one big primary, which may favor the two candidates with bases of support in New York City.
Jay Jacobs, the state party chairman, said the decision was made because the candidates have all worked hard for a year and all have at least pockets of strong support among county chairmen. He said the decision also shows the party embraces openness and respects the views of upstate county chairmen.
The candidates for attorney general are Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky of Westchester County, former state Insurance Department Superintendent Eric Dinallo of Manhattan, former prosecutor Sean Coffey of Westchester, and state Sen. Eric Schneiderman of Manhattan.
Dan Donovan, the Staten Island district attorney, is seeking the Republican nomination.
The candidates have to attract at least 25 percent of delegates' votes to get on the ballot. That would likely narrow the field to two or three. Coffey had already promised to seek a spot on the ballot through petition if he didn't get one at the convention.
Several county chairmen, particularly upstate leaders, didn't want to see their favored candidates knocked out so early, Jacobs said. Letting voters decide fits the theme of an organization calling itself a new Democratic Party, one that places a high priority on openness, he said.
A Siena College poll on Monday found no strong candidate for attorney general. Rice is viewed as Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's choice to succeed him as he runs for governor. She was the choice of 21 percent of those polled, followed by 9 percent for Schneiderman, 6 percent for Brodsky, 3 percent for Dinallo, and 2 percent for Coffey.
Although the candidates have been drumming up support among party leaders for months, they didn't formally enter the race until a few weeks ago. They had said they wouldn't run if Cuomo sought a second term, an issue settled Saturday with his formal announcement of his run for governor.
"More than anything, I think it is a function of voters not paying attention to politics in the spring," said Steven Greenberg of the Siena poll. "Now, presumably, you will have five attorney general candidates crisscrossing the state, trying to excite Democrats for their candidacy and potentially increase turnout on primary day."
The biggest turnout on primary day-which falls on Sept. 14 this year-is typically in heavily Democratic New York City. That could give a considerable edge to Schneiderman, a well-known Manhattan politician with a strong base and organization there. Dinallo, with some statewide name recognition from his high-profile investigations working for then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and later as insurance superintendent, may also have an edge in a big primary. He also won the backing a month ago of the Democratic Rural Conference, a group of upstate leaders.
Unless busy primaries develop in Westchester, Brodsky won't be able to benefit from the base he's built over nearly 30 years in the Assembly. Coffey is also from Westchester. And unless a hot primary erupts on Long Island, Rice might also be unable to rely on her base.
The attorney general's race was to be the only drama anticipated at the state convention starting today in Westchester County. Along with Cuomo for governor, the party's choice for comptroller, incumbent Thomas DiNapoli, was also already known.