2005-09-08 / News

Harsch files to run for attorney general’s office

Will make bid on Republican ticket
By Dotti Farrington

Harsch files to run for attorney general’s office

J. William W. Harsch J. William W. Harsch Jamestown Town Solicitor J. William W. Harsch, who lives and works on Conanicut Island and also has a law office in Providence, wants to be the state’s lawyer so that he can work on “the letter and the spirit of the law…being strictly observed” by everyone, even or especially by politicians.

Harsch is determined to be stern about the law. “I’ll be harsh about it,” he promised in a recent interview.

Harsch filed two weeks ago with the state Board of Elections to be a Republican candidate for state attorney general, to try to unseat Democrat Patrick Lynch in November 2006. A week after that announcement, he said he is “pleased with the reception” his candidacy is drawing.

Harsch said he is running because the state is suffering from a reputation for corruption among officials when “we need credibility, effectiveness and impartiality.”

He said the office of attorney general is one of the most important places to achieve the goals of the people and the state. “The office of the attorney general requires professionalism, maturity and a reputation separate from politics,” he said

Harsch has spent most of his adult life as a private practice lawyer working with the local, state and federal officials during both Democratic and Republican administrations. Trying to become attorney general is the first office through which he wants to work to counter the problems he sees created by some politics and some politicians to counter them by becoming a politician himself.

Harsch said the state has had many instances of politicians gone astray, but the reputation it has for widespread corruption “is not valid and fair when we look at what has been and can be accomplished” under good laws, applied properly. That there are so many examples of broken laws is the reason he is running, Harsch said. “Someone suitable for the job is a critical element of getting anywhere” with clean government through the office of the attorney general, he said.

He filed to start his campaign early this year, to avoid complications of compaign laws as they apply differently to individual canidates than they do to groups of candidates. He said some candidates violate those laws by not filing properly with the elections board.

Although he has officially filed to run, Harsch said he will formally kick off his campaign next month, and is preparing to detail all the issues that voters in the state need to know so they may have a full understanding of the importance of the office of attorney general and of the issues that he sees as “critical.”

Last time

In the campaign for attorney general in 2002, Lynch was going to be unchallenged for the job. Harsch said “the office was too important” for the candidate to not be challenged, so he switched his affiliation from the Democratic to the Republican Party and got the GOP’s blessing to run. But it turned out that he had done so too late for the 2002 election. Thus, he ran against Lynch as an independent, and after a very short campaign, lost decisively to Lynch. Harsch won Jamestown by a margin of 3-2, but lost the state 2-3.

Now Harsch, who previously had been a registered Democrat most of his adult life, believes that by announcing early and working a long campaign, he will unseat the incumbent. He also anticipates that his campaign will need to raise and spend up to half a million dollars — or whatever the cap is set at — if Lynch agrees to run under rules setting a maximum on campaign spending. In 2002, he had limited time, funds and arrangements to counter family and party funds that got Lynch major television ad exposure that Harsch could not financially access, the candidate said.

Local work

Harsch does not believe his campaign over the next 14 months to be elected state attorney general will impact his work for the town, at least until after the November 2006 election. He expects to be able to handle the town’s work, in basically the same proportions he has been doing in conjunction with support mainly from colleagues Lauriston Parks and Carolyn Mannis.

Harsch got to be the town solicitor, as the lead of a consortium of lawyers working for the town, after a double round of interviews two years ago when the Town Council was uneasy about his residency. Some thought his being a Jamestowner could create conflicts. Ultimately, the Democratic and Republican council members agreed to give him a chance.

About his party switch, Harsch said the political label is not nearly as important as the work the official does, and that he does it with “professionalism, maturity and impartiality.”

His career

Harsch has been admitted to the bar associations of the District of Columbia, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit, Rhode Island and the U.S. District Court for RI, and the U.S. Supreme Court. His professional affiliations include the D.C. and R.I. groups, as well as the American Bar Association and its section on natural resources law.

He started work as an administrative assistant to U.S. Congressman Frank E. Evans and was attorney for the InterAmerican Development Bank in the 1960s. He worked for and with state agencies mainly in the 1970s and for the federal government from 1977 to 1982 before focusing on his own office in Providence, concentrating chiefly on environmental and governmental law.

In the early 1990s, he incorporated two business, WWI and KEI corporations to own, lease, or develop real estate to construct, own, or operate co-generation facilities and sell the energy output but did not develop the companies and let those efforts lapse.

About Harsch

Harsch has been following the multiple residency pattern of his family, set by his grandfather, Spencer Shepherd Wood, and his father, Joseph C. Harsch.

Harsch got two of his names from the two: Joseph from his father and Wood from his grandfather. All have had homes in Washington, D.C., as well as Jamestown.

Wood, a Navy rear admiral who ran the “Van of the Great White Fleet” under Teddy Roosevelt, built the family’s local home known as Windswept. Harsch’s father, an internationally renowned journalist who covered World War II for major media, added Westwood Cottage, where Harsch now lives, to the family holdings on Conanicut Island.

Harsch was born on Jan. 22, 1939, in Washington, D.C. He was one of three sons of the late Joseph and Anne Harsch. The candidate described his mother “as an absolutely essential part of the team, supporting her husband, hosting royalty,” and otherwise managing the globe-trotting experiences and adventures of the family.

Harsch attended Cambridge University in England and graduated in 1960 from Williams College and in 1964 with a law degree from Harvard University. He volunteered during the preVietnam era for six years of duty with the Army Reserves, being tapped early during basics with the infantry at Fort Dix, N.J., as a trainer. He earned an honorable discharge with an E3 rating.

His wife is Cristina Thayer Harsch, an interior and event designer and consultant, who operates her business, Beyond the Fringe, out of their island home. She specializes in historic and period architecture and decor. She is a member of the State House Restoration Committee, the Women’s Resource Center of South County, and South County Garden Club for which she also is conservation chairwoman. She chairs fund-raising for Save The Bay in the South County area. She recently was named to the state Coastal Resources Management Council.

Harsch has a son, Joseph; two daughters, Christiana and Elizabeth (Liza); and a step-son, Philip Tichner.

For relaxation, Harsch likes anything outdoors, including tennis, gardening, and mostly sailing.

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