State attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout has vowed not to accept corporate donations, and called on her three opponents in the Democratic primary to do the same. The anti-corporate money stance is gaining ground among Democrats, a sign of the growing influence of the party’s progressive wing. And yet Leecia Eve, a vice president for government affairs at Verizon, doesn’t think it’ll hurt her bid to be the state’s next attorney general.
“I’m proud of the work that I do, so I view that as an asset, not a negative,” Eve told me in a phone interview. After all, she has been working at the country’s 16th-biggest company by revenue since 2013. “I’m the person with the experience who knows best how to go after bad corporate actors and hold them accountable,” she says.
Corporate lobbying is just one stop in Eve’s long career in politics. Born in Buffalo, the daughter of longtime Assemblyman Arthur Eve went to Harvard Law before joining major law firms, first in Washington, D.C., then back in Buffalo. Then she went back to the Capitol, serving as legislative counsel for then-U.S. Sens. Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. Before joining Verizon, she served for two years in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Cabinet, as deputy secretary for economic development.
Above anything else, Eve is emphasizing her experience in her run for attorney general, saying she is “the most qualified, and also the most prepared candidate to take on the challenges that we’re facing right now.” Eve’s resume doesn’t immediately outshine her opponents – Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney also has experience in Washington and the private sector, and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James was an assistant attorney general who has been in elected office for 15 years – but Eve does have a story. She once represented female inmates in Washington, D.C., who sued the Department of Corrections over conditions in jail. “One of my clients had her leg shackled to a bed as she brought a child into this world, in the nation’s capital in the most powerful nation on earth,” Eve said. “I’m proud to say I fought hard.” Her work in that case, in the mid-1990s, is now the focus of her first TV ads.
In the ad, and in conversation, Eve said that fighting back against President Donald Trump’s administration would be her first priority. But she also focused on problems within the state – educational inequality, an unfair criminal justice system and laws that limit voter turnout.
All of those are issues often seized upon by critics of Cuomo, who say the governor could be doing more to fix them. Though Eve didn’t specifically blame the governor, she nevertheless tried to distance herself from her former boss, saying she’d be “the most independent candidate.”
Asked to clarify given her deep ties to Democratic politics, Eve didn’t have much of an answer, and praised her father for winning office in 1966 despite not being the local party’s choice. When pressed, she insisted she would run an office independent from the governor.
“As attorney general, there will be no more fierce investigator and advocate to root out corruption in this state, no matter where I find it,” Eve said. “Whether it’s in the Legislature, whether it’s with local elected officials, or whether it’s in the governor’s office.”
Eve does have one obvious example of her independence: the fact that Cuomo endorsed James over her. Eve wasn’t surprised, she said. And unlike James, who won the party’s endorsement at the state convention in May, Eve had to petition to get on the ballot. “I’m proud that it wasn’t one endorsement, or multiple deals or a few people in a room that put me on the ballot,” Eve said.
Of course, Eve has been snubbed before. She looked like a strong candidate to be lieutenant governor in 2006, after launching her campaign with support from Clinton and other major players like Rep. Charlie Rangel and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins. But Eliot Spitzer, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor, shocked everyone by choosing then-state Sen. David Paterson as a running mate instead. Eve graciously bowed out, and Paterson went on to be governor after Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal.
Coincidentally, I ran into Paterson on the subway less than an hour before talking with Eve. Now working in investment banking, Paterson said he wouldn’t be endorsing in the attorney general race. But when asked about Eve, the former governor praised her for being a “team player” in 2006 – then echoed her favorite talking point.
“There’s nobody more qualified than Leecia Eve,” he said. “There may be some that are even to her, but there’s no one more qualified.”