John P. Cahill, second from right, at a campaign event in Greene County, N.Y.
By Peter McDermott
When John P. Cahill says he’s hopeful that it will be a good day on Nov. 4, he’s not referring to the weather.
“We plan to surprise a lot of people,” said the Republican candidate for attorney general of New York State.
Usually incumbency brings a natural advantage, but Republicans sense an opening in the perception that Eric Schneiderman has a rather lower profile than his two immediate predecessors, Andrew Cuomo and Eliot Spitzer, both of whom became governor following their tenures. And the attorney general before Spitzer was Dennis Vacco, a reminder that the Democratic Party hasn’t had a lock on the office in recent memory.
Vacco’s period in office coincided with the first of George Pataki’s three terms as governor. Cahill got most of his political experience during that long GOP occupancy of the state’s top office. He joined the Pataki administration in its second year and served until its end. “I was there when we turned off the lights on Dec. 31, 2006,” he said.
Cahill served first as commissioner of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and then as secretary and chief of staff in Pataki’s office. In May 2005, he was tapped by the governor to oversee the state’s efforts at the World Trade Center site. The New York Times welcomed the move, saying Cahill was an “excellent choice for one of the toughest jobs in the country. Getting all the parties involved in that site to work together and to work in the public interest requires an act of focused political will.”
‘Proactive’ on climate
On the campaign trail, Cahill will likely focus more on his long experience in the environmental policy area. In common with his former boss, he believes that climate change is a serious issue that requires the mitigating efforts of government intervention. They together formed the environmental consultancy firm, the Pataki-Cahill Group.
(Gov. Pataki parts company with most prominent Republicans on the issue. He has co-chaired the Independent Task Force on Global Warming, a project of the Council on Foreign Relations, and focuses on climate-change issues as a member of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations' General Assembly.)
“I’m very proud we took the lead on climate change. We were very proactive,” Cahill said of the administration he served. He was referring in part to the Pataki initiative that led to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the first multi-state carbon cap and trade program in the country.
More generally, Cahill is using a familiar GOP line of attack: he has contended that Attorney General Schneiderman is not sufficiently pro-business and is “nothing but an adversary” to certain forms of economic development.
He added, however, that “there are probably a whole range of issues that I disagree with Republicans across the country.”
The 55-year-old Cahill said he is asking voters “to look beyond labels to the kinds of policies that are going to best serve New Yorkers.”
As the third of the six children of Margaret, a County Cavan native, and James Cahill, a Manhattan tavern owner who was originally from County Longford, the candidate has a natural sympathy for the plight of immigrants, regardless of their status. “Everybody should be given an opportunity to succeed,” Cahill said.
He supports the Dream Act, believing that the illegal/legal distinction should not apply to children or those who’ve grown up in America.
Cahill and his wife of 27 years, Kim, themselves have four children: John, Meghan and twins Erin and James.
The candidate can trace his interest in the process to family conversations going as far back as the 1960s. “They were about President Kennedy and then Senator Kennedy,” recalled the life-long Yonkers resident. “Growing up we discussed politics around the kitchen table.”
Now that passion finds expression in bringing political ideas to the voters and he is enjoying that new role.
“It’s good to visit cities I haven’t been to in quite some time. That’s the fun part,” he said. “Pretty much every day, I travel to somewhere in the state.”
Cahill said: “We’ve been getting a very good reception.”