Dan Donovan, the Republican-nominated candidate for state attorney general in a sea of Democratic candidates, visited Franklin County Thursday to learn more about the U.S.'s northern border and other issues important to people in the North Country.
Donovan, Richmond County's district attorney from Staten Island, visited the new home of the Franklin County Border Narcotics Task Force in a secret location. There, Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne showed him how local, county, state and federal law-enforcement personnel work together to stop the flow of drugs from Canada into the U.S.
Champagne and Donovan are friends and have known one another for seven years through the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, with Donovan serving as last year's president and Champagne this year's.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
Republican attorney general candidate Dan Donovan talks with Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne Thursday in the secret headquarters of the Franklin County Border Narcotics Task Force.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
Champagne explained to Donovan how, near Fort Covington, several law-enforcement jurisdictions come together including Franklin County, St. Lawrence County, Quebec and Ontario, with an unmanned border on seven roads that pass through Canada to the U.S.
Champagne said an estimated $1 billion worth of high-grade marijuana is smuggled through this area each year.
Champagne said law-enforcement officers seized 177 pounds of marijuana earlier this week near the Akwesasne Mohawk reservation; he called it a routine seizure.
Because of what Champagne called the jurisdictional nightmare of so many law-enforcement groups coming together in one area to try to fight drug smuggling, the narcotics task force was formed.
The task force has connected drug-smuggling operations through 32 states, Champagne said.
He showed Donovan the force's wire-tap operation, a camera it has stationed 20 miles away that it can operate remotely from the office, as well as other equipment the task force uses to fight crime.
"Boy, has technology changed law enforcement," Donovan said.
Champagne noted that the operation should be something the next attorney general pays close attention to because it has statewide and nationwide implications.
"When they worry about terrorism in New York City, a lot of times those of us up here on the front line are like, 'What, are you kidding me?'" Champagne said. "I mean, you need to worry about the terrorists getting in through the northern border, because they're going to get in when you have wide open (borders)."
He said Donovan is the first attorney general candidate to take an interest in the area.
"I'm very excited that one of the candidates bothered to call me to say, 'Hey what's going on up on the northern border, and what do I need to know, and what do we have to deal with?'" Champagne said.
Champagne said he has a track record of being an aggressive and phenomenal DA. Donovan has been DA of Richmond County for seven years.
He said his tenure with the state DA association has been educational because he has been able to meet many other district attorneys across the state and to learn what issues they face. When he decided to run for attorney general, he said he decided he wanted to visit other counties to find out how the AG's office can help them.
"I'm here to learn more about the issues that Derek and the people in Franklin County are dealing with, and how the attorney general's office will be of some assistance and help them in their efforts to protect the people of this county and the people of our entire state," Donovan said.
"A lot of the efforts being done here in Franklin County are for the protection of the people throughout the state and the country."
Donovan said the AG office has 700 lawyers, a slew of investigators and an organized-crime task force. Those forces, coupled with jurisdiction over the entire state, could help assist Franklin County, one of the state's smaller DA's offices, or even take over cases for them when there is too much work to be done.
Although several recent attorneys general have easily become front-runners for the governor's seat, Donovan said he has taken a public pledge to not run for governor or any other higher office as the sitting attorney general.
"I want the people in our state to be confident that every decision I make is based on what I believe is the right decision for the people of New York state, and not because I had any political ambitions or any ambitions to run for higher office," Donovan said. "My whole campaign is based on trying to put faith back in our government, and I don't think people could have faith in their government if they think that they're making decisions for their own political or personal ambitions. So I've removed that from any consideration."
Donovan spent two days in the North Country, touring through Clinton, St. Lawrence, Monroe and Jefferson counties to talk to people there.
He said that even though he's from Staten Island, he's interested in what's happening in Franklin County. But he said he doesn't find the concerns of people downstate to be much different for the people of the North Country. They are concerned about jobs, paying their mortgages, their children and the problems in Albany.
"They are sick and tired of what's happening in Albany," Donovan said, "the dysfunction, the corruption, the collusion that's happening there."
Donovan's platform is based on fighting government corruption.
He said he has three ways he plans to go about doing this:
-He wants to the attorney general's office to have original jurisdiction on public corruption cases.
-He'd like to tackle member items to make sure elected officials don't have personal or financial interest in the nonprofit organizations receiving money.
-He wants outside income of elected officials revealed to the public so the public knows they aren't awarding state contracts because of personal interests.
Contact Jessica Collier at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.