The Fixers


They may have their differences, but “Tikkun olam,” Hebrew for repairing the world, was the one phrase both Andrew Cuomo and Mark Green used in why they want Democratic voters to support them in Tuesday’s primary to be New York’s attorney general.

“Every day since I left law school I have been a people’s lawyer and public advocate,” Green said. “I live my professional life according to the classic ‘tikkun olam,’ and this is not just an election year slogan. It is a mirror of my life.”

Cuomo pointed out that ‘tikun olam,’ a phrase used by his father, Gov. Mario Cuomo, in his unsuccessful 1994 re-election bid is the “same concept of progressive Democratic politics — to reach out and repair the breach, community, interconnection, sharing and improving; tzedakah and justice. That is my speech.”

Sean Patrick Maloney, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, is also in the race, but on Tuesday, the fourth Democratic challenger, Charlie King, threw his support to Cuomo. King, a former regional director of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development when it was headed by Cuomo in the 1990s, said it was clear that Cuomo would win and that he was withdrawing to unify the party ahead of the general election in November, when the winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Jeanine Pirro, the former Westchester district attorney.

In an August Quinnipiac University poll, Cuomo was the front-runner, outpacing Green, his closest rival, by 13 percentage points. But half of those who chose a candidate said they might change their minds. Cuomo has reportedly spent $2.9 million since Aug. 8 and had $3.46 million on hand. Green reported $1.46 million on hand in a similar filing with the Board of Elections; Maloney had $229,000.

The New York Times endorsement of Green may slow Cuomo’s momentum, as could a report in this week’s Village Voice detailing his financial ties to a businessman who was the target of a kickback inquiry when Cuomo was secretary of HUD.

But Cuomo, 48, insisted in a Jewish Week interview Friday he had the right experience for the state’s top legal post.

“Look at my record of experience and accomplishment,” he said. “Who knows state government and which entity you are going to reform? Understanding how it works is important because if you don’t know, how are you going to fix it? I worked across the state and in the federal government and a big part of this job is protecting New Yorkers from the failed federal government of President [George W.] Bush.

“You [also] have to know how to get legislation passed, and I worked for eight years and got an amazing amount of legislation passed in Washington. You also have to understand business and I’ve been in business and charities, and I ran a large not-for-profit and funded and regulated thousands of not-for-profits at HUD,” he added. “HUD funded not-for-profit organizations; it was a big funder of Catholic and Jewish groups.”

Cuomo said there is not a “stronger advocate or fighter” for Israel in the race. He said he once flew to Israel on behalf of President Bill Clinton to help develop economic cooperation between the U.S. and Israel. And he said he returned in 2002, one week after a terrorist attack at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“I have two brothers-in-law who are both Jewish — Kenneth Cole, a great fashion designer, and Howard Maier,” he said. “And we went as a family as a sign of solidarity. It is my heritage and family and philosophy in terms of ‘tikun olam’ and tzedakah.” Green, 61, pointed with pride to the endorsement from the Times, which said he had an “impressive record of protecting consumers. The former New York City consumer affairs commissioner and public advocate conducted investigations that ranged from kosher food price-fixing to probes of HMOs, hospitals and nursing homes. He told The Jewish Week he is the only candidate who has succeeded in protecting the public’s “health, income and social justice. … In 1979, I sued the Commerce Department to get the names of companies [boycotting Israel]. I formed the kosher coalition to jawbone down Pesach [Passover] prices, and it worked. … And I convinced the Mets to create the first glatt kosher food stand at a sports arena in New York.”

As attorney general, Green said he would focus on health care, consumer fraud and public integrity.

For his son’s bar mitzvah nine years ago, Green said he took him to Israel “so he could understand personally and vividly that he is a link in a 4,000-year-old chain and that it must be unbroken.”

Maloney, who was an adviser to President Bill Clinton from 1997-2000, said he has not been to Israel but is “dying to go.”

“I worked for Clinton for three years and was supposed to go with him,” he said.

Maloney pointed out that while he was at the White House, he “read everything the president did, and got to read all the details of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and just how good a deal Yasir Arafat walked away from.” He said he is the only candidate “with that level of national security experience.”

He said he understood the difficulties Israel faces and believes the U.S. “needs to stand shoulder to shoulder” with Israel.

Maloney said that if elected he would focus on suing “corrupt” state public authorities, including the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He said he would work also to reduce violence against women and keep sexual predators away from children, and to “fight back against George Bush for violating our privacy rights.”

“If Democrats are tired of leftovers, I want to give them a fresh choice,” he added.