October 27, 2018

The Buffalo News

The race for New York attorney general is between a Buffalo-born attorney who works for a white-shoe law firm in Manhattan, Keith Wofford, and the New York City public advocate, Letitia “Tish” James. James, a Democrat, talks about using the office to take on the Trump administration. Wofford, the Republican, bases his candidacy on going after the culture of corruption in Albany.

Wofford’s emphasis carries greater urgency for New York. And the fact that he’s independent from the state’s political power structures gives us the confidence he could make big strides in taming the corruption beast.

Wofford grew up on Buffalo’s East Side and attended City Honors School before going on to Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has worked for 25 years in the private sector, becoming a top bankruptcy lawyer for Ropes & Gray in New York City.

“I’ve spent the last 25 years dealing with people who come up with very sophisticated ways to take other people’s money,” Wofford said in a meeting with Buffalo News reporters and editors.

Wofford may lack experience in the public sector, but he shows a firm grasp of issues important to New Yorkers. For example, he wants to use the organized crime task force and Medicaid fraud task force to crack down on opioid dealers and on doctors who overprescribe them.

On the Catholic Church scandals, Wofford supports the attorney general’s criminal investigation, in coordination with local district attorneys.

Wofford, who voted for President Trump, says he would oppose the administration when needed, such as the White House’s intention to add a question about citizenship to census forms, which would result in the census counting fewer people in New York.

As for ethics problems that have tainted state government, Wofford speaks in specifics. He says existing statutes empower the attorney general to investigate cases of bid-rigging, which he calls low-hanging fruit. He would also establish a set of “fact patterns” that when spotted in state business transactions would be flagged for investigation by the AG. An obvious red flag, he says, would be single-bid government contracts.

He also makes a strong case that his lack of a political portfolio would be an asset, not a liability.

James, meanwhile, says she is not beholden to anyone, but the governor’s interest in her candidacy undercuts her vow of independence. And in an interview in the summer, James said that she would like to investigate the state Senate for blocking legislation that Democrats favor. That smacked of pure politics, not law enforcement.

Keith Wofford says he would be “the sheriff of both sides of the street” if elected, representing an even-handed approach. We hope he gets the chance.