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Will new AG keep an eye on WNY?

A few days ago, Eric Schneiderman made his first visit to Buffalo as attorney general to scope out his largest regional office and set the tone for his new administration. That's the way it is with attorneys general. They pretty much conduct their office how they want: Bob Abrams emphasized consumer affairs; Dennis Vacco exercised his crime-fighting powers; while Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo focused on Wall Street.

Last week, Schneiderman rode into town to remind Western New Yorkers they will hear lots about "public integrity" over the next four years.

"New Yorkers have lost confidence in the essential institutions of state government and the private sector," the attorney general told reporters. "I intend to focus my agenda on restoring public confidence in these essential institutions."

Schneiderman, a former senator from Manhattan, emphasized that, like his immediate predecessors, he will keep an eye on the world's financial capital in lower Manhattan.

"Part of that means policing the bad actors," he said. "It's not a matter of being an abusive sheriff of Wall Street. But there are rules for all."

But what he emphasized on the campaign trail, and what he wants to make abundantly clear now, is the promise to investigate and weed out public corruption. He recognizes his own powers, and sees "a real opportunity" in the reform agenda promised by the new governor.

Schneiderman said he senses a "visceral disgust" with abuse of office by some legislators, and promises to use his huge staff of lawyers "to go after corruption wherever it is."

"It's important for people in public service to be big enough to go after people who degrade public service," he said. "We can do a lot more about it and the public is demanding it."

It will now prove fascinating to see how the new attorney general follows up on his promise. Public corruption cases have rarely surfaced in Western New York over the past few years. Maybe that means there aren't any. Or maybe it means it just hasn't been rooted out.

At times, law enforcement officials have privately expressed frustration that political corruption has not ranked as a higher priority. The Buffalo News has reported several instances of election law violations in Western New York, and former Gov. David A. Paterson's chief counsel -- Peter J. Kiernan -- even called the situation a "pattern" as he referred several matters to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan.

But nothing was ever done on that level or locally.

Schneiderman has at his command an army of lawyers and investigators who become experts in whatever the attorney general desires. This new attorney general has decreed that one of his highest priorities is a restoration of confidence in public integrity.

And it is most fascinating that Schneiderman chose Buffalo to underscore that message.

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*The Politics Column reported in December that Senate Democrats were livid over the $120,000 still sitting in former Sen. Antoine Thompson's campaign account. They felt that sum could have overcome his loss by 525 votes if only it were spent.

But now it turns out that a series of amendments to his campaign finance report results in a new and shrinking total every few days. The latest is $3,928.

Campaign treasurer Mark Boyd says mistakes stemming from duplicate reports resulted in the incorrect numbers. But now some are questioning the level of confidence the public should place in a system that could report misleading dollar amounts throughout an entire campaign. The possibilities of political mischief in such cases seem endless.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

Get the latest from the campaign trail at the Politics Now blog on buffalonews.com

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