Written by Melissa Argueta Friday, 02 July 2010 00:00
Fighting political corruption in Albany is what Republican candidate Daniel M. Donovan Jr. says will be his top priority should he be elected the next New York Attorney General. Vying for the top prosecutor’s seat, along with five Democratic hopefuls, the Staten Island District Attorney spoke candidly with editors of Anton Community Newspapers during a recent visit to Long Island.
A native Staten Islander, Donovan, 53, worked his way through college at St. John’s University, and took on student loans while attending Fordham Law School at night. Prior to being elected district attorney, Donovan served for eight years under Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau. After leaving Morgenthau’s office, Donovan began serving Staten Island in 1996 as chief of staff to then Borough President Guy V. Molinari who is a former member of Congress. In January 2002, Mr. Donovan was appointed deputy borough president, serving under Borough President James P. Molinaro. As a candidate for district attorney in 2003, he defeated the chief assistant of the outgoing district attorney, who had held his position for more than 20 years. He was reelected in 2007 and received 68 percent of the vote where Democrats outnumber Republicans 5 to 3, according to Donovan.
Announcing his candidacy in May of this year, Donovan entered the New York Attorney General race later than his Democratic rivals. “I did some soul searching and decided that…I had enough of seeing what was happening in Albany and our state government. I am a New Yorker before I am a district attorney or anything else. I’ve been here my whole life and I’m disappointed, upset, frustrated and disgusted, just like every New Yorker is, at our state government,” Donovan said, during the meeting held at Anton Newspapers.
The district attorney emphasized that the basis of his campaign is to fight “public corruption and the cheating taking place in New York State.” Donovan, who is up for re-election as Staten Island district attorney in 2011, deems himself a man who is not driven by a need for political ambitions. “I have a very comfortable life … I make substantially more money than the Attorney General does,” Donovan said, adding “I just feel a responsibility… We’ve been able to help 500,000 people on Staten Island, I want to help 19 million people in our state.”
When discussing how corruption can best be thwarted in the public sector, Donovan said it begins with exposing those individuals who have abused the power given to them. “I’ve seen what happens on both sides of the aisle,” Donovan said. “I’ve always said it’s a privilege to serve not a right,” he said, adding, “Our last two attorney generals, one became governor, one is running for governor. I don’t have any ambition to be governor. I have ambition to be the next attorney general.”
Donovan emphasized the need for those working in government to inform the public of their personal or financial interests if it poses a conflict of interest. “I am not opposed to working outside the legislature, having outside income, having outside employment, but the people in the state have lost faith in their elected officials. They don’t believe them anymore. They have a reason not to believe them. Part of it is the failure of people in office to be honest with the citizens and tell them, listen, I have outside employment,” Donovan said.
The problems escalate when elected officials use their powers for their own benefit, he explained. “If we know that you are voting on a bill that involves, for instance, health care reform and yet, you have an interest in a pharmaceutical company that may profit from the bill you are about to vote on, he stated as an example. “It’s the secrecy that I think has given the people in our state reason not to believe, not to trust. We’ve lost that.”
Donovan worked in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office with former Attorney General and Governor Elliot Spitzer, and recounted how Spitzer made corruption on Wall Street the focal point of his administration, while Cuomo has focused on the student loan scandals. Donovan pledged to attend to all the traditional responsibilities of the attorney general’s office, giving focus where he thinks it is most needed. “As [Spitzer and Cuomo] chose their priorities, public corruption would be mine,” Donovan said. He also stated that there are two ways to reform the culture of corruption, first by implementing legislation and second, through executive order.
When asked if he would continue Andrew Cuomo’s aggressive agenda of stopping the increasing online exploitation of children, Donovan said the responsibility should be shared with service providers to filter content or take more precautions. He said that while there are always going to be predators, parents play the biggest role in protecting children from online predators. “I think [the Cuomo administration] did a good job of that. As new innovative methods, or equipment or services come about, we’re going to have to figure out ways to protect children from those as well,” Donovan added.
Another area Donovan wants to explore is the possibility of no longer awarding pensions to those who have committed crimes while in office. “There may be some constitutional issues with that. As you know the pensions are guaranteed by the state constitution but we’re looking at something like that that we will want to correct,” he said.
Donovan stressed that he will address corruption in the financial sector by attracting businesses to New York instead of just chasing them out. “I was always a believer that you could root out corruption, whether it be in Wall Street or legislature, and pull out the weeds without ruining the garden,” he said. Financial services are a provider of jobs for New Yorkers, and they are a huge tax base, Donovan said. “There are corrupt [individuals] in the industry but not everyone is corrupt. If they decide to pick up and leave New York, they don’t have to go to Tokyo, they don’t have to go to London, they can go to Jersey City,” he said. He also warned that when a large industry leaves a geographic location, there is a collateral effect on other service workers. “There are a handful of people who have given a blemish to the financial services industry, and I believe you can take that corruption out without destroying an industry,” he said.
In responding to legislation that would ban the sale of semi-automatic weapons not equipped with microstamping on shell casing, Donovan said he was in favor of it. “That will help us find a lead. Right now, shell casings don’t lead us to anything,” he said. He also emphasized that while he is in favor of the technology, he is also a believer in the second amendment. “Outside of our areas, and even within our areas, there’s a huge hunting community,” he said “This would have no effect on them at all.”
Donovan recently accepted the GOP’s nomination for attorney general. The five Democratic candidates running for attorney general are Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice; Assemblyman Richard Brodsky of Greenburgh, Westchester County; former prosecutor Sean Coffey of Bronxville, Westchester County; state Sen. Eric Schneiderman of Manhattan; and Eric Dinallo of Manhattan, a former state Insurance Department superintendent. The five candidates will battle it out in a Sept. 14 Democratic primary.