Attorney General Candidates Debate #7: Haikus and Chutzpah


The marathon debating team of five Democratic candidates for Attorney General met again last night and if they are maybe running out of steam somewhat after seven straight matches who can blame them?

Kathleen Rice, the Nassau County D.A. who is leading both polls and fundraising, gave the event its one small newsbreak when she was the only candidate who wouldn’t rule out running for governor in the future. She smiled when she said it, looking decidedly electable.

There was also a nice moment when moderator Dick Dadey of the Citizens Union, which hosted the event at the CUNY grad center on 34th Street, forced candidates to come up with on-the-spot three-word definitions of themselves.

This produced visible squirming. State senator Eric Schneiderman, running second in money and polls, sighed that he wasn’t sure this “haiku experiment” would be very meaningful, but he cheerfully weighed in, choosing “Unintimidated,” “Independent,” and “Reformer.” That was pretty much par for the course, with the quintet generally adopting interchangeable campaign chestnuts, like “Fighter,” “Effective,” “Principled,” “Creative,” and “Hard-working.”

The two exceptions were low-key nice guy Eric Dinallo, the former Eliot Spitzer aide and ex-state insurance chief, who said he was “Accessible” — a pleasing notion to imagine in a potential statewide official. Then there was assemblyman Richard Brodsky who, in a fine display of self-knowledge, confessed to “Chutzpah.” “Do you want me to define it?” he asked. No need, grinned Dadey, who lives in deep chutzpah territory in Brooklyn.

Brodsky later proved his point in his sum-up speech when he read from my Voice ode to his A.G. candidacy last week, while omitting the qualifying phrase in the first graf. The excised words were: “as long as you agree that statesman-like diplomacy is not the top requirement, he is your man.” Now that’s chutzpah!

There was also a lively exchange between attorney Sean Coffey and Schneiderman over the state senator’s leading role in expelling the girl-friend swatting Hiram Monserrate from the senate. Coffey is an ex-Navy career man who gives the impression he had a lot of time for both reading and yarn-swapping while at sea. In his own swat at Schneiderman, Coffey managed to both give a lit ref to a famous book by a former President, while demeaning one of his rival’s claims to fame. “I just don’t think that’s a profile in courage,” said Coffey, dubbing it an example of “Albany dysfunctional dodgeball.”

The two slugged it out as well in a discussion about ethics reform. Schneiderman, citing his long history of promoting such legislation, said he felt like “a member of the French resistance” who was finally getting some outside support. “Welcome to the fight,” he said. Military vet Coffey retorted that “the French resistance didn’t win the war, the allies did.” Schneiderman punched back, in what sounded like real French: “Je pense que no!” he said. Don’t take my word for it but I think this means fuhgeddabboudit.

In any event, it’s interesting that this is the second time that the duo have argued over French history. Last week, at Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, it was Coffey reminding Schneiderman that it was a famous British actor playing a French police captain who first voiced that fabulous law enforcement credo, “Round up the usual suspects.” There are at least four more debates to go. Final Jeopardy! is September 14.