New York’s attorney general can and should serve as a counterweight to the power of the governor, particularly when the governor has managed to concentrate much of the state’s political power in his office, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has. An active and ethical attorney general can act as a deterrent to a governor’s abuse of executive power, and we believe Keith Wofford is the best candidate to fulfill that role.
Wofford’s resume includes an impressive rise from a working class family in Buffalo to Harvard Law School and now a job as a partner in a large law firm, specializing in bankruptcy and creditors’ rights. His commitment to public service can be measured by his willingness to give up a huge private sector salary ($3 million to $4 million) for the $159,000 he would earn as attorney general.
He is a political outsider, which we consider an advantage, but also a savvy lawyer who will represent the interests of all New Yorkers.
Wofford cited his integrity and his lack of political ambition as reasons why he’s the right person to serve as the state’s chief legal officer. He won’t use the office as a “political springboard,” he said, referring to the tenures of other recent attorneys general, such as Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo, who did just that.
He sees political ambition as the motivator for past prosecutions of banking and investment firms that he considers overzealous. We don’t feel sorry for the big banks from which New York wrung billions of dollars in settlements following the 2008 financial collapse, but we do admire the integrity of Wofford’s argument. The law should be followed in an evenhanded way, even when defendants are unsympathetic.
Both Wofford and his opponent, Tish James, have talked about cleaning up corruption in state politics. But James, now the New York City public advocate, is part of the state Democratic political establishment and has Cuomo’s backing. We have more confidence that Wofford will be independent and not subject to influence from the governor’s office.
The former attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, pursued several lawsuits against the Trump administration — on immigration and environmental laws, among others — and has accused Trump’s charitable foundation of breaking the law.
James says she will continue those efforts, but Wofford says he will only take up cases tied to Trump if they will benefit New York or its residents. That seems to us a reasonable line to draw. The attorney general is supposed to be lawyer for all the people of New York and not a partisan operator.
Both candidates have distinguished records — Wofford’s in the private sector, James’ in public offices — and we believe both are capable of doing a fine job as attorney general. But Wofford brings a fresh perspective that we value, along with a connection to upstate and a disinclination to serve in lockstep with Gov. Cuomo. He is the best choice for the job.