Eliot L. Spitzer made his first Buffalo visit as attorney general Thursday to check out his offices, outline a new philosophy for his administration, and officially appoint Council Member at Large Barbra A. Kavanaugh as director of the regional office.
Spitzer confirmed early reports that he has named Ms. Kavanaugh to the post, which oversees the work of approximately 20 attorneys covering the eight counties of Western New York. As a result, Ms. Kavanaugh said she resigned from her City Hall office Monday to begin her new job across Niagara Square Tuesday in the attorney general's Statler Towers offices.
"I couldn't be more thrilled," she said Thursday.
"It's somewhat bittersweet because I enjoyed being a Council member. But this opportunity to use my background and training in public interest law was too good to turn down."
Ms. Kavanaugh said she reflects Spitzer's plans to emphasize public interest fields such as consumer protection, environmental issues, health issues and civil rights.
She said she also aims to maintain the "traditional high standards of the Buffalo office," the largest regional office within the Department of Law.
Peter B. Sullivan, who once headed the office in the administration of former Attorney General Robert Abrams, will be her top deputy and is expected to assume a major role in the office, Spitzer said.
Spitzer also confirmed his previously announced intention to form a Reproductive Rights Division within his office to crack down on abortion clinic violence and to review whether New York
ers have access to women's services.
The announcement comes as tensions run high in the wake of the October slaying of Amherst abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian, along with a planned anti-abortion campaign in Western New York this spring.
Meanwhile, Spitzer said he is behind in addressing some of his goals and appointments because the outcome of his razor-thin contest with Republican incumbent Dennis C. Vacco was not determined until Vacco finally conceded in mid-December.
"The best thing my wife and I were looking forward to on Election Night was bringing closure to the long campaign," he said in an interview. "But at about 2 o'clock in the morning, we finally realized that this was just beginning."
Since his official certification as attorney general, however, the Manhattan resident has been busy appointing dozens of top-level people.
He said he is proud and enthused about those appointments, claiming that a minimum of political recommendations were considered -- to fulfill campaign promises to avoid political hires -- a move that also has caused problems with some Democratic supporters.
"I have wanted to take the office in a different direction, and that has meant alienating a lot of political supporters," he said. "But I think the lawyers I have appointed could compete favorably with those at the most expensive law firm in New York City."
The attorney general said he will consider recommendations for top-level posts in his office from any source -- including politicians. But he emphasized that all of his appointments have fulfilled his exacting standards, even those with political backgrounds.
"I'll look at anybody, but won't hire anyone who is not perfect for the job," he said.
Spitzer said he has encountered some problems with cases he would have handled in a different manner than his predecessor.
But for the most part he is concentrating on revamping the office to be more in tune with his vision.
"I've begun to put in place an agenda," he said. "Health care will be a major statewide push, and you'll see a telecommunications piece to ensure competition in that field. It will be a top priority."
He also promised that the office's criminal investigations will continue.
"There will be a philosophical difference -- absolutely," Spitzer said.
"But I have found a stupendous reservoir of creativity that was held back by the philosophy of the previous administration that we're going to let loose."