2006-10-05 / News

Harsch's AG run gains momentum

By Dotti Farrington

J. William W. Harsch, Jamestown's lead town solicitor and a former state and federal official, continued his efforts in September to unseat incumbent state Attorney General Patrick Lynch in next month's election.

Late last month, Harsch's campaign gathered significant momentum from Lynch's role in court developments in the case of the Station nightclub fire, which took 100 lives in 2003.

Court decisions on the responsibility of the two club owners for the fire dominated reports involving the attorney general in recent weeks. The election campaign earlier in September took a back seat because there was no contest in the primary for the office between Harsch, a Republican, and Democrat Lynch.

Harsch said the nightclub fire "tested our character when Rhode Islanders came together to mourn our losses." The court actions "are testing our character again. Wounds are being reopened and questions are being raised," he said.

Harsch said he earlier avoided commenting on the fire and its legal aftermath "out of respect for the victims and for the process of law. However, at this stage in the process, like many other Rhode Islanders, I can say that I do not have the sense that justice was served. However, out of respect for the process of law and victims' families, I will refrain from further comment or judgment until more is known and more is understood." Harsch said the public needs to know exactly what happened in the plea-bargaining process, in the fire itself, and Lynch's role in those matters. He promised to provide the data if elected. "I'm asking that the truth come out," he said.

Lynch said he is working to identify "materials and evidence gathered during the exhaustive investigation of this case that we can publicly release."

Other issues

Harsch has been detailing multiple issues "so voters may have a full understanding of the importance of the office of attorney general," he said. Harsch's career has included stints as chairman of the Rhode Island Public Utility Commission, a federal special assistant attorney general, and first director of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Harsch contended that "From being fined by Superior Court on two separate occasions for professional misconduct to apparent violation of ethical standards, Patrick Lynch has proved over the last three years that he neither understands nor respects the high moral, ethical, and professional standards demanded of the Office of Attorney General."

He has challenged Lynch to debates, but no response or plans for debates have been announced.

Harsch also issued several policy initiatives, such as rules to make it more difficult for convicted sex offenders to obscure their identification level, and to make it easier for citizens to know the exact location of registered sex offenders. Currently, Rhode Island is one of four states that do not list the addresses of convicted sex offenders.

Harsch also talked about how his previous state and federal career work relates to policies he can impact as attorney general in areas of alternative and renewable energy sources and consumer protection. He pointed out Lynch's lack of experience and commitment, and frequently emphasized his own maturity compared to Lynch's relative youth. He has spent "an entire career fighting for clean and accountable government," Harsch said.

Endorsement

Directors of the 4,000 member Rhode Island Shoreline Coalition for non-partisan reform last month endorsed Harsch for attorney general. Group leaders cited Harsch for his "qualifications and attention to protecting the environment, and dedication to rooting out corruption in government."

The RISC endorsement said its "clear disappointment with Lynch's handling of the Station Nightclub Fire, CVS/Blue Cross bribery scandal, Roger Williams Medical Center and Beacon Mutual corruption cases, and in particular, the DuPont lead paint settlement." RISC said Lynch's "actions on these and other issues have been problematic for us."

The RISC said its goals are to "address quality of life issues such as sound government, ethics and conflicts of interest, taxation and fiscal responsibility, planning and development, land use, the environment, voting rights, education and Rhode Island related matters."

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