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Eric Schneiderman’s Inevitable Fall

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Eric Schneiderman’s Inevitable Fall

Hints existed that the New York attorney general’s public image was not the whole story. May 8, 2018
New York
Politics and law

New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman has resigned, just hours after it was reported that he had been accused of violent assaults on women he had dated. These allegations, which include threats that Schneiderman made to stalk and kill the women if they told on him, came as a shock—except to anyone who has followed his career in politics. Schneiderman’s louche ethics have been well known. You didn’t need an “in” at Albany watering holes; just reading the newspapers would have told you plenty.

 In 2010, when Schneiderman first ran for statewide office, he was involved in a hit-and-run accident. Then a state senator, he claimed to have been a passenger in his own car when his 22-year-old staffer Rachel Kagan—niece of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan—smashed into a parked car and drove away, after causing $3,000 worth of damage. A passerby witnessed the crash and wrote down Schneiderman’s license plate. Schneiderman later told the owner of the parked car that he “disciplined the staffer,” and offered to pay for the damage, though his office insisted that it was “outrageous” to call the incident a hit-and-run.  

Schneiderman later had a brush with trouble regarding his close relations with prominent Hasidic businessman Moshe Stern, the federal government’s chief informant in a major 2013 corruption case involving former state senate president Malcolm Smith. Stern, who provided Schneiderman with entrée to the extensive Hudson Valley Satmar community, was the bagman in the Smith corruption scandal, which revolved around Smith, a Democrat, seeking to obtain the Republican line in the 2013 mayoral race in New York City through the payment of significant bribes to Republican Party leaders. Joseph and Esther Markowitz, the couple who apparently funneled the bribes through Stern, gave Schneiderman $103,000 in campaign contributions, which he donated to charity when their part in the Smith case came to light. 

In 2014, when Schneiderman ran for reelection, Randy Credico, a comedian and New York City gadfly who perennially runs for local office on the issue of drug legalization, alleged that he had sniffed cocaine with Schneiderman, then a state senator, in the back of a bar. Schneiderman denied it, admitting to having used marijuana and cocaine up until 1998, but Credico insisted that Schneiderman was doing “bumps” of white powder with him and a group of others. Given the reports from women he dated and beat that Schneiderman was a raging alcoholic who would routinely bring a bottle of scotch to bed, Credico’s story sounds more credible. 

Plenty of hints existed, then, that Schneiderman’s public image was not the whole story. And there were rumors about his private life, too, as suggested by President Trump’s 2013 tweet, “Weiner is gone, Spitzer is gone—next will be lightweight A.G. Eric Schneiderman. Is he a crook? Wait and see, worse than Spitzer or Weiner.”

But Schneiderman was such an exemplar of a progressive-activist hero—suing Exxon, working in concert with Robert Mueller to obtain pardon-proof convictions against Trump associates, speaking at the Women’s March—that people who probably knew better looked away from evidence of his wrongdoing. Even the closest friends of one of Schneiderman’s victims encouraged her not to speak out, “arguing that Schneiderman was too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose.” Like Harvey Weinstein and other prominent liberals who spoke out on behalf of women’s issues, Schneiderman’s power and prestige protected him, for a time, from public accusation.

With Schneiderman out, it is now up to the state legislature—more specifically, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx—to select a new attorney general to serve out his term, which expires at the end of this year. New York attorney general is an enormously important office, and given the state’s unique Martin Act, which assigns the chief prosecutor virtually unlimited power to investigate and bring charges against almost anyone, for anything, it is a frighteningly powerful office, too. Speaker Heastie—formerly the boss of the Bronx County Democratic Party—is a close friend and associate of Congressman Joe Crowley, who is reportedly seeking to oust Nancy Pelosi and put himself in line for Speaker of the House should the Democrats win big this November. Heastie and Crowley will look to install a reliable ally in Albany, someone they can trust and control.

 It is a particularly grotesque coda to this affair that the choice of a new attorney general will be entirely in the hands of Albany legislators, who can appoint anyone they wish. Albany—which spawned and nurtured Schneiderman—is a notorious pit of abuse and dysfunction. Harassment of female staffers was hushed up and paid off for years under indicted former assembly speaker Sheldon Silver. It is a certainty that Schneiderman’s replacement will have roots in this same poisoned soil.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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