John Cahill, a former policy advisor to former Governor George Pataki, is running on the Republican line for Attorney General.
LAKE PLACID — John Cahill strode into a coffee shop in this idyllic summertime hotspot and apologized for being late.
The former Chief of Staff for Governor George Pataki had just come from the 32nd annual Tupper Lake Tinman Triathlon in Tupper Lake, a brief respite from traveling the state meeting with local law enforcement officials.
“This was just a tune-up race for Ironman,” he said, referring to next month’s triathlon.
He may well have also been referring to another endurance effort: Running as the Republican candidate for New York State’s Attorney General.
Cahill, who nabbed the GOP nomination at the state convention in May, said he has always realized the importance and value of public service.
His bio is impressive: Senior Policy Advisor to the Governor. Chief of Staff. Former Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner. High-powered lawyer at the consulting firm that bears his name, a co-billing with Pataki, the state’s last Republican governor who served three terms and left office at the end of 2006.
“But now I’m at a point when my kids are grown up,” Cahill said. “I’ve got a valuable background for public service and want to serve.”
The candidate said the current Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, has forgotten and ignored the public.
“Most people don’t know him or anything he’s done,” he said. “The job is too critical of a position to be ignored.”
Cahill said he felt strongly about issues of criminal justice and that the position plays an important role in fighting crime throughout the state.
“I don’t share the same philosophy as Schneiderman. Crime is absolutely caused by criminals,” he said. “They’re the root cause.”
The candidate said he would work closely with local law enforcement on issues that are important to the North Country, including the heroin epidemic.
“What Schneiderman has done is handed out an antidote. He said he doesn’t believe we can prosecute our way out of the crisis.”
Cahill was referring to comments the incumbent made last month promoting his office’s Community Overdose Prevention program designed to provide naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote, to state law enforcement agencies, a tack toward treatment and recovery and away from tossing them in a jail cell.
“I believe we need to prosecute these criminals who sell and discriminate narcotics to children and families to the fullest extent of the law,” said the candidate.
Cahill said he agrees that treatment opportunities are needed, but a more vigorous approach and a comprehensive statewide plan with law enforcement was also required.
One problem, he highlighted, was the amount of heroin needed for felony possession made it difficult to crack down on traffickers and dealers.
Cahill said Schneiderman was “nowhere to be seen” in the recent legislative session that hammered out the most recent package of bills.
The Governor’s new initiatives, which were announced last month, included the addition of 100 experienced investigators to the State Police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team, new efforts to make supplies of naloxone available to all first responder units in the state and the launch of a targeted awareness campaign that will take place on all public college and university campuses.
The legislation also included increases in the penalties for the criminal sale of a controlled substance by a pharmacist or practitioner by making the crime a class C felony and added the “criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance or of a controlled substance by a practitioner or pharmacist” as a designated offense for purposes of obtaining eavesdropping warrants, something the Governor called “a small but significant reform” to help law enforcement crack down on distribution and trafficking.
“It was a pretty good comprehensive package,” Cahill said.
Cahill, who is from New York City, said he is “philosophically at different ends of the spectrum” as Schneiderman when it comes to the SAFE Act, the controversial gun control law that was passed by the New York State Legislature early last year in the wake of the Newtown incident.
“It really painted law-abiding citizens as criminals and cast them into improper light,” he said.
The candidate said that as Attorney General, he would be required to uphold state law. He would not have supported the legislation, he said, but instead would have pointed out why it shouldn’t have passed.
“It’s unfortunate the current Attorney General didn’t point out the serious weaknesses,” he said. “In fact, he put out a press release beforehand that gave no serious impact.”
Cahill, who netted an endorsement by the state police, also said the gun law, which is among the most severe in the country with provisions that ban high-capacity magazines and created an assault weapon registry, failed to address the mental health crisis that often accompanies violent acts.
“That underlying issue is nowhere addressed in the SAFE Act,” he said.“While it is the law, that doesn’t mean we can’t work with local law enforcement officials to make sure it’s implemented the best way.”
CLEAN WATER ACT
As a former DEC Commissioner with a J.D. and Masters Degree in Environmental Law from Pace, Cahill said he’s deeply dialed into environmental issues, including the Clean Water Act.
He cited last week’s decision by a state agency to peel $511 million from funds given by the federal government to the state to assist with the cost of new sewage treatment plants to reconstruct the Tappan Zee Bridge as a gross misuse of the funds.
The loan, which passed a hurdle last but still faces further approval, was met with myriad criticism by environmental groups.
The agency that provided the loan, the state Environmental Facilities Corporation (Cahill actually used to head it), has argued that replacing the 60-year-old structure would remove a large amount of lead paint that is said to be toxic.
They also argued that the project, which has a total estimated cost of $3.9 billion, would improve the Hudson River.
The next step is approval by the Thruway Authority and the Public Authority’s Control Board.
“I’m a supporter of Tappan Zee, but to take that money to build a bridge in Lower Manhattan is not right,” Cahill said. “I hope they reconsider using that money for the Adirondacks. How do we grow the size of capital infrastructure to provide for growth in the North Country? This is really indicative of the upstate-downstate divide.”
Asked about what some critics have referred to an a militarization of the country’s police forces, including repeated tasering incidents by Glens Falls Police that have attracted significant criticism, Cahill said he was unfamiliar with that discussion.
“We’re putting more and more responsibilities on our police officers,” he said, citing the required training that comes with the heroin antidote, as an example.
“We have increasing responsibilities, which of course, is going to strain the department. We expect the police to keep our streets safe but also expect them to do more and more. It’s a lot of strain financially, and it’s an issue I hear a lot.”
STATE REPUBLICAN TICKET
Cahill is joined on the GOP ticket by Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci, Chemung County Sheriff Chris Moss and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino as the candidate hoping to unseat Cuomo this fall.
Astorino, who has centered his campaign around Cuomo’s tax plan — and has gone as far to label him a “tax cheat” over perceived assessment issues surrounding the home he shares with television chef Sandra Lee in Westchester County — visited Lake Placid earlier this year and has carved out a platform of assailing the Governor on his property tax freeze initiatives, presiding over an unfavorable economic climate, the abrupt dissolution of an anti-corruption body and facilitating what he perceives as a Democratic culture of corruption:
“He handled the property tax freeze with gimmicks and headlines,” Astorino told the Valley News. “We did it in Westchester by dropping the tax. Cuomo’s plan is like giving someone who has a fatal disease an aspirin.”
Cahill called Astorino “a terrific county executive” who has held down taxes and exhibited “real leadership” in Westchester County. Moss, he said, was “an incredible guy” who understands the issues and brings a real world experience to both law enforcement and the ticket.
And Antonacci, a CPA and lawyer, should be commended for the AAA bond rating he maintained for Onondaga County, Cahill said.
“It’s just a wonderful ticket,” he said. “We’re going to focus on really bringing balance back to Albany.”