H. Carl McCall would do away with closed-door decision making in Albany if elected governor and work with members of Congress on a "New York strategy" for advocating policy on international issues, he told The Jewish Week.
"I’m not going to approve policy issues or budget measures that have not been subject to legislative hearings and public scrutiny," said McCall, addressing the power of the governor, Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker to decide virtually all state business in secret.
Asked what role a governor should play in international affairs, McCall, 66, said he would meet regularly with members of Congress to voice his positions.
"There ought to be a New York strategy in terms of what do we want from Washington," he said. "In terms of the Middle East, we’ve got people on key committees, people who will help formulate policy with Israel in particular. It’s very important for us to be actively engaged in the peace process."
The Jewish Week interviewed both McCall and former housing secretary Andrew M. Cuomo last week, prior to Cuomo’s decision to withdraw from the Sept. 10 Democratic primary. McCall now faces Republican Gov. George Pataki in November. Thomas Golisano, who is seeking the Independence and Conservative party nominations, may also be on the ballot.
In a lively hourlong interview last week at the newspaper’s Midtown offices, McCall was relaxed and often jovial as he discussed the purchase of $20 million in State of Israel Bonds and $50 million in Israel-related securities through the state’s pension fund. He noted that other comptrollers have followed his example.
McCall said Pataki deserved "a failing grade."
"The things he worked with me on he did fine … everything else he made a mess of it," McCall said.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
The Jewish Week: What are some of the issues you perceive to be of importance to the Jewish community?
McCall: Education, senior citizens, the cost of prescription drugs, economic issues … protecting the environment. These are all areas that we talk about and where we can make a case that the present administration has failed. Beyond that, Jewish voters are concerned with issues such as our relationship with Israel, concerned about reducing hate crimes and other negative activities that bring about racial division.
The state is currently fighting to uphold the kosher enforcement law. State courts have found the law is unconstitutional.
As a church-state issue I think the state should be very careful about getting involved in internal [religious] issues and should not take a position with respect to whether one religious position ought to prevail over another. We should do whatever has to happen to get the state out of that.
The state has also ruled repeatedly against the Kiryas Joel school district created for chasidic students. What’s your view?
I was in Kiryas Joel last Monday and was endorsed by the leadership there. [McCall was endorsed for the primary by Republican Mayor Abraham Wieder.] … Under their laws children should have a Jewish education. By the same token these children are severely handicapped and in every other instance they get state support. They should get state support for their education. If the Legislature can fashion a way to do it that would be satisfactory … they should find ways to revise it that’s acceptable to the court.
What about school vouchers?
I don’t support them. It’s not a matter of constitutional, I don’t think that it’s good public policy to support two school systems, to take money out of the public school system and make it available to others … We should concentrate our efforts on how to improve the system.
Is there any other form of relief you envision for those who pay parochial tuition?
We should look at some other ways that would provide assistance … but I don’t have any particular suggestion. I’m willing to explore it.
How will the recent defeat of Rep. Earl Hilliard in Alabama and Rep. Cynthia McKinney in Georgia (who were heavily opposed by the Jewish community) affect black-Jewish relations?
I’ve been very clear in terms of where I’ve been on black-Jewish relations. I’ve been willing to stand up and speak out against people in the black community or any other who tried to bring any divisions … In every race there are interest groups that support their interests. The Jewish community has many interests and Israel is one of them … There are candidates who are defeated because they are anti-labor and the unions spend a lot of money opposing them. That’s part of the democratic system.
After 9-11, can security personnel do their jobs without some form of racial profiling in airports?
I don’t think it’s appropriate under any circumstances to look at one group of people and say they should be scrutinized more than others. We should be diligent and vigilant in terms of screening anybody, but I don’t think we should point out any particular groups and say they deserve more scrutiny than the others. I reject that.
So we should scrutinize the little old lady the same as we do someone with a Saudi passport?
I would have to say yes. It puts a terrible burden on security, but there is a fundamental principal in terms of civil liberty and civil rights we should all be very mindful of in terms of seeing it undermined.
Do you support a U.S. war against Iraq?
We have to think about the amount of casualties and the impact on the coalition against terror. There ought to be a public discussion in Congress before a final decision is made.
How did you feel about the recent comments made by Professor Cornel West about your candidacy? He called you a "timid brother."
I’ve only seen Cornel West three times in my life. Just about a year ago he came to New York to support Freddy Ferrer for mayor and it’s interesting that he and I were both with Freddy Ferrer and Cuomo was with Mark Green and now [West] is with Andy Cuomo.
You’ve been accused by critics like West and Russell Simmons of not using the state pension fund to support black causes.
The pension fund exists for the purpose of investing money to provide benefits to retirees, and that’s the sole purpose … If in the course of doing that it’s also possible to advance economic causes, one should do that. The pension fund should be judged by performance and my pension fund has outperformed all the others in the country.
You visited a settlement alongside Assemblyman Dov Hikind. Have you heard from both sides of the Jewish community on this issue?
He arranged one part of it that gave me a new perspective on the settlements. I heard from a lot of people who said I shouldn’t go to a settlement … Dov said you should see for yourself. I thought it was reasonable. Israel Bonds did not arrange for me to go there, let’s put it that way … It seemed like this one, Beitar Illit, was like going to Mount Vernon. Some people would like to be in the suburbs. I didn’t get any sense that they are there to defy any kind of understanding or take over the Palestinian areas … It just looks like they want a decent, secure place to live and work and raise their families. … There will be an agreement and the settlement issue will have to be a part of that … [It’s] one of the critical issues.
You’ve gotten along pretty well with Governor Pataki over the past seven years. Some have said you were too close.
Every day can’t be about political infighting. There are governmental responsibilities to carry out. I would give him a failing grade.
Polls show that in a head-to-head matchup with the governor, Pataki wins re-election.
Pataki has the advantage of being in office and being present and people see a lot of him. When this campaign gets joined after the primary, it will be about his performance. He was elected because he got overwhelming support upstate. The economy was in terrible shape and he promised to fix it.
His support upstate is eroding. That’s why he’s working so hard to get Latinos and labor unions.
Given the number of people exonerated by DNA evidence, should there be a moratorium on executions in this state?
We don’t need a moratorium because nobody’s been executed yet. We have to look at whether it’s imposed in a fair and equitable manner … We’ve got the advantage of not having executed yet. Let’s look at the whole process.