You canâ€™t live in a society where you have 400,000 kids, nearly half a million kids not getting the education they are entitled to under the law. Itâ€™s an economic death sentence for them. So you have to do something about it and you have to do something profound and significant, not something that tinkers around the edges. In some schools in this State and in the city you have a violent incident reported every week and every month of the entire school year and somehow thatâ€™s allowed to continue year-after-year-after-year. Thatâ€™s reprehensible. Itâ€™s illogical. You canâ€™t defend it.
New York State Attorney General candidate Charlie King visited with The Black Star News at our offices recently for a wide ranging interview which appears below in its entirety.
BSN: The whole Transit Strike; if you were Attorney General how would you have handled it differently?
King: There is not much that the Attorney General has flexibility on publicly with respect on what had to happen and I canâ€™t hypothesize as to what it was that Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was doing privately with respect to his client the governor. One of the wonderful advantage of being the Attorney General of the State of New York is that it gives you the wonderful opportunity to advocate on behalf of the people on a whole range of areas. For me itâ€™s going to be education, itâ€™s going to be healthcare itâ€™s going to be other issues.
For Eliot it was Wall Street and other issues. The downside of being Attorney General is sometimes you have to endorse laws with results that you may not agree with personally. In this instant I believe that the Taylor law is flawed but it is the law of the State and it is the requirement of the Attorney General to enforce the laws of the State as long as they are not clearly unconstitutional.
BSN: What do you say to those who say that the Taylor law was enforced selectively. In other words there were things that management did that was not right too by the law.
King: Well thatâ€™s my point. I am saying that there are flaws within the Taylor law in and of itself and it actually is my personal view that it creates a disadvantage for unions in the negotiation process. And were I the Attorney General and were I advising this governor and were the lawyer for this governor, I would certainly make clear those flaws and the problems within the Taylor law and stress what the resolution should beâ€”Might be different than what Governor Pataki chose to pursue. But at the end of the day the governor is the Attorney Generalâ€™s client in this case and if the governor wants to do what the governor wants to do, you have to enforce the law. Your client requires you to do so.
BSN: In one of your information packages you talk about fighting criminal drug activity in neighborhoods. To our readers the interesting thing would also be while you are fighting crime how do we deal with the high rate of and total numbers of incarcerated young Black men?
King: First of all if you want to know my true key to fighting crime, itâ€™s my number one issue in this raceâ€”itâ€™s education. Weâ€™ve got 400,000 kids trapped in failing schools right now. Theyâ€™re not getting the education they are entitled to under the law, or pursuant to the New York State constitution. And there are very few highly educated individuals who are in jail and there is no dispute whether you are Republican, Democrat, Liberal or Conservative that education is the key to avoiding the criminal justice system and also the key to pursuing the American dream as far as you are willing to pursue it. That is the first point. The second point is that there are a lot of problems with the criminal justice system as we see it now. The Rockefeller Drug Law for one being a clear example.
But the difference between me and some of the other candidates in this race is that, on issues like the Rockefeller Drug Law, is I just donâ€™t say that there is something wrong with it and that it ought to be repealed and I think most of the candidates if not all on the Democratic side would agree, but I take it the next step to say, â€˜Okay what can we do for those young men and women who are coming out of incarceration on the Rockefeller Drug Laws earlier than they thought to make sure that they maximize their second chance on life?â€™
And as I said before, I run a not-for-profit that provides housing to homeless New Yorkers and one of the stress points for people coming out of incarceration is initially having a place that they go to when they come out that they can call home. Because if they were in public housing to begin with, and their familyâ€™s in public housing, theyâ€™re not allowed to go back. So it creates already the first stress point, the day that you are released, as to where youâ€™re going to live. So [on April the 10th] my not-for-profit, working with the Legal Aid Society, working with the Fortune Society, working with other not for profits created a safety net if you will, for a Rockefeller Drug Law releasee.
They are coming to one of our facilities, staying free of charge, for 30, 60 days so that they can have a place they can call home. Fortune Society is working with them to get their job skills. If there are mental health or substance abuse issues weâ€™ve got not-for-profits with respect to that and we are working with Legal Aid, which is their lawyer, which got them released in the first place. So my record has been clear and strong on that issue. And another thing I might add is that the not-for-profit that I run, 95% of the folks who work with me have been incarcerated before and they do a wonderful job in the not-for-profit.
And when I become Attorney General one piece that I want to look into is the preventative component of the office, so that if you have for example kids who are at riskâ€”when my father was alive he was actually a social worker who dealt with violent troubled youth and actually ran a school for them where not a violent incident was reported on his watch in the school for the entire time that he ran the school. Which raises the question for me, why canâ€™t our public schools do that on a daily basis for our kids now?
But when I become Attorney General working with for example at risk kids, to prevent them from going into crime or to go further in, working with community organizations but also working with those kids to find out what can be done to help them avoid it. And I think itâ€™s not a cookie cutter answer. There is going to be different needs for different communities and different kids. And the second piece is for those that you donâ€™t catch as theyâ€™re coming out to start their second lease on life, is to create that kind of program that I have right now. That kind of idea when folks come out so that they can put their best foot forward.
BSN: How would this be funded?
King: This would be funded through the office of Attorney General. You have a fairly big budget and you just need to be efficient on what youâ€™re going to spend it on. And to me thatâ€™s a part of what the Attorney General can do and ought to do.
BSN: So thatâ€™s dealing with a good aspect of that going forward. But what about the currently incarcerated population. Is there something that needs to be unique? Should we even consider a form of Amnesty for certain categories of low level crimes?
King: Amnesty no, but looking at the harshness of sentences, yes. Thatâ€™s what the Rockefeller Drugs Laws is all aboutâ€”itâ€™s repealing draconian laws for low level nonviolent crimes. And it may not need to end with the Rockefeller Drug Law. There may be a host of other issues where the laws are much higher for nonviolent offences. And my philosophical view is that the crimes that should be punished most harshly are violent crimes, by and large. There might be a couple of exceptions to that rule but for the most part that is my philosophical belief.
So thatâ€™s one piece if it. But the criminal justice system needs to be examined everyday. How is bail being allocated? Is bail being allocated fairly across the board? How is the police policing? In a fair and consistent manner from community to community? The AG represents the department of correction in hundreds of prisonersâ€™ rights cases all the time.
That may be a place again where, ultimately itâ€™s going to be the department of correction on each case how they want to go with it, but each client should listen to their lawyer. And if you begin to change the culture, when we begin to look at these issues there may be places there where you can begin to shape policy and shape the way the department of correction is dealing with people who are incarcerated on legitimate cases just by virtue of us being the lawyer for the department of correction on these cases that are litigated by prisoners.
BSN: The drug business. People in the Black community wonder how do the drugs get there? Because we donâ€™t have a lot of airports in the neighborhoods. We are always seeing the petty dealers being taken out of the precinct in handcuffs. What about the big stories? Nobody talks about that.
King: You need to go after the drug kingpins. Youâ€™ve got to go after the people who are actually organizing the drug trade. The ones who are taking over public housing in communities of color and turning them into terror zones. And that would be a focus. Typically, dealing with drug dealing and dealing with crimes like this is within the purvey of the district attorneysâ€™ offices across the State.
The Attorney General has some role in it with the Drug Enforcement Task Force (DETF) and can play a role in shaping that policy so that the focus is more on the CEOs of the drug enterprises as opposed to the low level people who are implementing the policies.
A lot of times itâ€™s going after the low level people who have taken over public housing, not that they should be spared, letâ€™s be clear here, but it doesnâ€™t change the culture, it doesnâ€™t solve the problem if you stop just at that level because the drug kingpins will just pick up and move to another part of the State, another part of the neighborhood, another public housing project and start the whole process all over again.
Because youâ€™re not cutting off their source of supply and they will always be able to find people because, the economy being what it is, and the fact that education being what it is, sometimes the best job opportunity for people in poor neighborhoods is a life of crime.
BSN: Are you hopeful that something can be done?
King: Iâ€™m very hopeful that something can be done. It takes something more than just the usual status quo to attack these kind of issues, and again not just in this area, but in all areas. Education for example. Iâ€™m hopeful that we can make a change because we have to make a change. You canâ€™t live in a society where you have 400,000 kids, nearly half a million kids not getting the education they are entitled to under the law. Itâ€™s an economic death sentence for them.
So you have to do something about it and you have to do something profound and significant, not something that tinkers around the edges. In some schools in this State and in the city you have a violent incident reported every week and every month of the entire school year and somehow thatâ€™s allowed to continue year-after-year-after-year. Thatâ€™s reprehensible. Itâ€™s illogical. You canâ€™t defend it.
BSN: Tell our readers some of the things that you would do. Also talk about the fact that we canâ€™t get the monies we need from Albany. Iâ€™m sure itâ€™s not always about the money.
King: Itâ€™s not only about the money and thatâ€™s a very important point here. Sometimes itâ€™s how you allocate the money. Sometimes making sure that you are efficiently using that money. In some places outside New York City for example you have school boards that are supposed to be allocating billions of dollars in taxpayersâ€™ dollars to education and they either fritter it away or misspend it or criminally line their own pockets with it. We have seen that happen in Hempstead, weâ€™ve seen that happen in other places. So some of the things that I would do are as follows. First of all I would create within the Attorney Generalâ€™s office an education integrity unit. That would be a group of lawyers and accountants that would go into these failing schools and find out what is going on and what is the problem and then bringing about change so that those schools are no longer failing and so that those kids can have the education that they are entitled to.
Second, I would create an education hotline for educators, for parents and for kids to report where they think they are not getting the education that they are entitled to. A lot of times, effective law enforcement comes from tips. You just need to give the community or people an opportunity to provide that. The third thing that I would do is assign every lawyer a number of schools across the state, so that everybody knows. It doesnâ€™t matter if you are in the appeals division. It doesnâ€™t matter if you are in the division thatâ€™s going after Wall Street, public integrity. It doesnâ€™t matter.
In addition to whatever else you have on your workload you have four schools that you know you are responsible for. So that whenever there is something that goes on in these schools people know that there is an Attorney General assigned to it that will start the ball rolling on anything and everything that is going on in those schools. And the fourth thing is that I would take my philosophy which is rooted in the law, and that is that every child is entitled top attend a safe succe4sful school and so if they are not allowed that right to attend a successful school which has happened in the pastâ€”There were 5,000 kids who tried to transfer from failing schools as they are entitled under the law and as I would argue under the New York State Constitution, Chancellor Klein illegally denied that right to 4,000 of the 5,000 kids right here in New York City and I sued on behalf of these kids and we won.
We got a settlement where those kids were able to transfer to a successful school for the second semester of the last school yearâ€”the 2006 school year. The key here is that kids are entitled to good education. The Department of Education (defendant in the lawsuit) said they did not have the capacity to absorb these 4,000 kids which is factually inaccurate number one but number two, is irrelevant to the fact that these kids are entitled to this education right.
BSN: Talk a little about teachersâ€™ and principalsâ€™ accountability and talk about your position on vouchers.
King: Iâ€™m wholly opposed to vouchers. To me teachers and superintendents should be accountable. You always have to have a form of accountability.
When I become Attorney General Iâ€™m going to add accountability in the area of healthcare, for example, by posting a website where people who contact my office who want us to get them healthcare they are entitled to under the law, if we are dragging our feet, if someone is unsatisfied with what weâ€™ve done, theyâ€™re going to post it on our website so that the press can see it, so the public can see it, so that I can see it, so that people in my office can see it. And we canâ€™t control it. It is what it is â€“and it may be a little unfair to us or may be completely fair but itâ€™ll keep us accountable.
Teachers are principals must be accountable. Education is the most important thing that our kids have because without it itâ€™s an economic death sentence for them. Ten years from now, in my view, thereâ€™re not going to be one job on this planet that you are going to be able to do with a G.E.D. or simply a high school diploma.
BSN: Millions of New Yorkers donâ€™t have healthcare. What can the Attorney General do about this?
King: One out of every two bankruptcies in this country is predicated on a healthcare related issue. For some, itâ€™s people who are uninsured, for so many more, itâ€™s people who are insured but are illegally denied. So you have two big issues. Letâ€™s start with people who are covered. There are an increasing number of illegal and bad faith denials that are happening all the time. Healthcare decisions are being made by Administrators at HMOs (Health Management Organizations) who are trying to seek a profit. And the way they do that is by denying healthcare or putting pressure on doctors to provide healthcare that they know falls below the standards. So Iâ€™m a candidate that thinks creatively on all of these issues. Weâ€™ve started a television blitz right now where we talk about healthcare. And we are asking people across the State to share with us examples that they believe of individuals where healthcare has been denied illegally or unfairly.
And we continue to get people to call in with stories that are incredible. The reason why this is not covered as much is because a lot of times we focus on getting universal healthcare so that everyone is covered. And I didnâ€™t actually even put this together until this week when Betsy Gotbaum asked me this questionâ€”she said â€œWhy do you think that people arenâ€™t dealing with this as much?â€? Itâ€™s because weâ€™re pushing for coverage, weâ€™re not actually looking as critically at whether people are getting the coverage that they are supposed to get. So one priority for me in healthcare is that people get the healthcare that they are entitled to. The second is that I believe there are two million New Yorkers who are uninsured right now. Many of them are what I would call the working poor. People who are working in small businesses and who do not have healthcare.
They go to the emergency room when itâ€™s actually an emergency. And there are several problems with that. Again, the crime analogy. The best way to actually stop crime is to engage in preventive activity. Itâ€™s the same with healthcare. We have a healthcare system that actually rewards doctors and gives them more money for the sicker you are. So the sicker you are the better paid doctors become â€“ which is insane. But the second part of it is when you are insured and you go to a hospital, the hospitals have traditionally charged you more money. If you are not insured you get charged $1,000 for a procedure, whereas someone who is insured and has negotiated with the hospital through AETNA or whomever, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, that healthcare provider, that HMO gets billed 50% of that and you only pay $500.
And sometimes, even when the cost of something is $1,000 someone who is uninsured gets charged $2,000 or $2,500. Then they send out the collectors. They let the dogs out on collection agencies and they hound you to death. So thereâ€™re all kinds of problems, all kinds of frauds, that need to be dealt with. And weâ€™re not even dealing with Medicaid fraud right now. But this is actually making sure that people get the healthcare that they are entitled to and thatâ€™s my top priority in the healthcare area when I become Attorney General.
BSN: Do you think that you are relatively unknown to voters and therefore you are underestimated?
King: Yes, very well put. I am underrated and what Iâ€™ve been saying the last couple of weeks is to the press is not only underrated but ignored. And ignored in a way that doesnâ€™t make sense to me and Iâ€™ll give you an example. There are six candidates in the race. Iâ€™ve raised $2.5 millionâ€”more than any other candidate in this race other than the exception of Andrew Cuomo. But Iâ€™m probably the least covered candidate. Iâ€™ve got more money than Mark Green, more political support than Mark Green, more union support than Mark Green.
The only thing that he has is that heâ€™s been polling better than I have. And anyone who knows anything about polls will tell you that at this stage of the game polls are only about name recognition â€“ who they know, itâ€™s not about who they believe in or who they want. If you take the polls and look at what the polls tell you is that if the elections were held today, according to a New York 1 poll that was done [recently], undecided would win by a landslide. So that means that even though Andrew Cuomo and Mark Green are so well known, their campaigns are not connecting with the voters. Now the press doesnâ€™t cover the polls that way. They donâ€™t question why is it that Mark Green, Andrew Cuomo and Eliot Spitzer are equally well-known, yet Eliot Spitzer is polling at 70% and Andrew is polling at 27% and Mark Green at 21%. Isnâ€™t that a huge drop off?
If Eliot Spitzer were polling at where Andrew Cuomo was polling or where undecided was beating Eliot Spitzer by 13% points the press would have a field day, saying that his campaign is in disarray, that he is in a downward spiral. In this race, they donâ€™t say that, which is illogical to me. But the polls show that what New Yorkers want is a candidate who is not yet known. They want someone different then Andrew or Mark. With a different leadership style, talking about different issues and thatâ€™s me. And I have the money to get my message out so that people will know who I am and what it is that I stand for.
BSN: Do you think that between now and the elections you have enough time to get your message across and get more potential voters to support you? And what is your strategy?
King: I have enough time and I have enough resources in order to do that. The strategy is three-fold. One is to, right now weâ€™re introducing myself and my candidacy across the State through television commercials and also through interviews like this so that we can get people to get to know who I am. The second one is to generate the enthusiasm that weâ€™ve been starting to generate within the grassroots in New York and itâ€™s been increasingly successful.
One of the most heartening things about my candidacy is that [recently], in Madison County, which is in Central New York, I was asked to keynote a government leadership luncheonâ€”Bicentennial government leadership luncheon for the elected government officials in this small County of Madison. That County is 99% White and 85% Republican and I got the endorsement of the equivalent of a County Executive â€“ Republican County Executive, after my speech there.
Fast-forward to Saturday when Iâ€™m standing in East New York with Councilman Charles Barron who has endorsed my candidacy, taking my Peopleâ€™s Campaign down to the streets of Brooklyn and having all sorts of leadersâ€”community leaders, elected officials, people who are running for office. There is no other candidate in this race who can bring together such a diverse constituency behind their candidacy.
What unites both of these communities is a true belief that something needs to be done thatâ€™s different. Not to hear the same old political bull that people have been hearing for years, and the belief that the change can happen through having me as Attorney General. Not just myself but that the people actually be a part of my office. Theyâ€™ll know that Iâ€™m not going to Attorney General from 30,000 feet up in the airâ€”that Iâ€™m going to be accessible. That Iâ€™ll be working with them to make a difference.
BSN: There are a lot of complaints coming from some Black charitable organizations that they donâ€™t get monies from the resources that the State gets through fines and levies that end up in the Attorney Generalâ€™s coffers.
King: I donâ€™t have enough inside information on that but what I can tell you is that certainly when Iâ€™m Attorney General, and again Iâ€™m not saying that what these charities are saying are true or not true, but when A.G. that will not be an issue.
BSN: We hear about environmental racism and that it may have impact in the disproportionate rate of asthma among children in certain parts of Harlem.
King: Any place where there is environmental racism in this State weâ€™re going to eliminate it when I become Attorney General. Take the issue of asthma, Iâ€™ve got asthma. I have my little inhaler in my pocket here. I was sick for two months when I finally went to a pulmonologist and found out that my lung capacity was at 50% where it needed to be. And the reality is that the poorer you are the worse healthcare you get, the sicker you are the worse you do in schoolâ€”I mean itâ€™s all connected. You canâ€™t look at education, which is my number one issue, without looking at how their healthcare is being addressed and how their healthcare is being dealt with.
BSN: What do you say to people who say youâ€™re too decent? Professorial. Have you heard that before?
King: I have heard that beforeâ€”nice guy, not tough enough, all that kind of stuff. Iâ€™ve heard it. What I say is that you can be a person of honor, a person of integrity, and a person who is fair-minded and tough and bring about results. I believe I am going to win this race because I believe truthfully that I am the best candidate in the race, with the best record, with the best vision for the office, with the strongest worth ethic. No one is going to work harder than me as the next Attorney General. I think I inspire hope in government and people want to be a part of that.
Editorâ€™s note: Candidate King said his current endorsers include: Rep. Jose Serrano, who is co-campaign chair; Rev. Herbert Daughtry; NYC Council members Charles Barron, Kendall Stewart, and Larry B. Seabrook; State Senators Kevin Parker and Ruth Hassell-Thompson; Mt. Vernon mayor Earnie Davis; NAACP NY President Hazel Dukes; and, organizations include some local DC37 Locals along with DC1707; The Alliance Network, Upstate in Syracuse; and, Pastor Donald Hudson of Common Ground Ministries in Brooklyn. King notes, of Hudson: â€œWeâ€™ve worked very closely together on the issue of Katrina and I did a lot of work on protecting the newest New Yorkers from being evicted illegally from the hotels when their FEMA money ran out. So I treasure that endorsement as much as I treasure Rev. Sharptonâ€™s endorsement if I am fortunate enough to get it.â€? King notes that Rep. Charles Rangel has â€œcontributed financiallyâ€? to his campaign.