Editor’s Note: Errol Louis is the host of “Inside City Hall,” a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
After more than a decade of political service, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s political demise took less than half a day. But while Schneiderman’s many conservative enemies, including Donald Trump Jr., took to social media with barely-disguised glee to slam the AG – now accused of physical violence against four women – they should be aware that Schneiderman’s successor will likely be another hard-charging liberal.
By day, Schneiderman was a progressive hero, using his office to crusade against the Trump administration. It was Schneiderman who sued Trump University for defrauding students and won a $25 million settlement. He also organized more than a dozen other attorneys general to launch court challenges to the Trump administration’s travel ban on Muslim countries. He sued again earlier this year to protect the DACA immigration program from elimination.
But by night, there emerge allegations of a different and disturbing picture of Schneiderman. A blockbuster investigation by The New Yorker, published online, paints a lurid, shocking portrait of New York’s top law enforcement officer as an alleged serial abuser of women, someone who slapped and spat on them, heaping insults and other verbal abuse as well.
The story, reported by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, also alleges that Schneiderman has a serious drinking problem and threatened to use the power of his office against women he’d victimized.
“All of a sudden, he just slapped me, open-handed and with great force, across the face, landing the blow directly onto my ear,” says one former girlfriend, named Michelle Manning Barish. “This was under no circumstances a sex game gone wrong. This did not happen while we were having sex. I was fully dressed and remained that way. It was completely unexpected and shocking. I did not consent to physical assault.”
The story went live, and viral, around 7 p.m. ET Monday; Schneiderman resigned before 10.
Thus fell a Democratic hero, one of the most persistent and powerful critics of President Donald Trump and his family-owned businesses. And even before Schneiderman posted his resignation letter, New York’s political class was chattering about who might replace him.
In the short term, the state legislature – dominated by Democrats – will name a replacement to finish Schneiderman’s term, which runs through the end of this year. But many potential candidates are already talking about jumping into a Democratic primary in September (or being suggested by others as possible candidates to do so) – and all of them are ambitious and eager to use the powerful attorney general’s position as a stepping stone to greater things.
The early short list of possible candidates includes Letitia James, the public advocate of New York City, and Zephyr Teachout, an associate law professor who ran a surprisingly strong race against Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014. Both have the advantage of being women at a time when the #MeToo movement has spotlighted the downside of male-dominated environments, like the state capital.
A state senator named Mike Gianaris, who was already raising money for a possible run for AG, is considered a serious contender. Ditto for US Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Mark Peters, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation.
New York’s Reform Party is calling for the candidacy of Preet Bharara, the well-known former US Attorney of New York’s Southern District – and scourge of Wall Street – who was fired by President Trump in March 2017.
Any one of the top contenders would be a decent attorney general – and some, like Bharara, might bring much-needed reform to New York government. And all of them will pick up where Schneiderman left off, doing battle against the Trump administration at every turn.
Ever since crusading lawyer Eliot Spitzer shook it up in 1999, the office of New York attorney general has been a place where ambitious politicians go to take on big public and private projects. Spitzer frequently invoked a little-known state law, the Martin Act, that gives New York’s AG the power to investigate Wall Street firms.
Spitzer used high-profile financial cases to build a national reputation, using the job as a springboard to the governor’s mansion. After then-Gov. Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal, his successor as AG, Andrew Cuomo, used the office the same way – and is currently seeking a third term as governor.
Schneiderman used the office the way his predecessors did, mounting probes of major corporations, including ExxonMobil (sued for not disclosing the negative impact on investors of climate change), along with Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs (sued for misleading investors about the impending financial crisis a decade ago).
The next attorney general is likely to continue the Spitzer-Cuomo-Schneiderman tradition of building a following among national Democrats as an energetic opponent of corporate misbehavior and of conservative White House policies. So, while the Trump administration may be chuckling at the downfall of one nemesis, it should understand that Schneiderman will be replaced by another. It’s the nature of the job.