Schneiderman should be looking over his shoulder
What do Andrew Cuomo and Eliot Spitzer have in common? They were both Attorney General and both rode that office into the governorship. What does Eric Schneiderman have in common with Cuomo and Spitzer? He, too, would like to succeed from his position as Attorney General to higher political office. If you were Andrew Cuomo, would you wish to contain Schneiderman’s ambition? Does a bear walk in the woods?
While I can’t gain entrance to either man’s brain, I daresay Cuomo knows he has an ambitious and politically effective rival. Thus, with the cunning of a modern day Machievelli, it’s unlikely that he will do much to help Schneiderman succeed. As a progressive who doesn’t seem to have much use for hydrofracking or right wing Democratic Party politics, Schneiderman presents a potential risk to Cuomo who has been alienating the center left of his party with policies that look a lot like those espoused by Rupert Murdoch.
Surely, sooner or later, Cuomo’s magnificent poll numbers will begin to drop and Schneiderman could prove to be very popular, perhaps in an eventual Democratic primary. Jimmy Vielkind, a very good reporter in Albany, New York, remembered that during the campaign for Attorney General, Schneiderman said he would take on public corruption, big time. When asked what had become of that promise, Schneiderman’s staffers said they had approached Cuomo’s people to ask for a gubernatorial executive order that would give the Attorney General first crack at these corruption cases. According to the Schneiderman side, the Cuomo people said “no.”
Predictably, the Cuomo people responded that they were never asked. Cuomo now says that he wouldn’t mind but his powers are limited in this area and that the law would have to be changed to make that happen. Pretty funny. Presumably, the very people in the Legislature who would be targeted would have to agree to give Schneiderman the power to prosecute them.
Foxy Cuomo certainly understands that isn’t in the cards. This is a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house. To make the matter even more complicated, Schneiderman has made a new alliance with the nicest man in state government, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. They have announced a partnership in rooting out public corruption. DiNapoli will not say a single bad word about Cuomo but he surely remembers how Cuomo steadfastly refused to endorse his fellow Democrat during the recent campaign for his office. One Democratic legislator told me that the Cuomos have a history of avoiding other Italians on their statewide tickets.
There is no way that Cuomo will give Schneiderman the expanded power he is seeking and cute answers will not cut it with the people. This is a dangerous strategy for Cuomo. People don’t like the Legislature, they don’t like politicians. When I ask my students what their parents think of the political class, they almost always tell me that their parents think they’re a bunch of crooks. That isn’t true, of course, but once they understand this power play, voters may ask, “What’s Cuomo afraid of?” Schneiderman may be Cuomo’s equal when it comes to ambition.
No one has ever accused him of being too nice. Clearly, this is a case of internal politics but the people don’t care about these rivalries. They want to seem more corrupt officials removed from office. Right now, Cuomo has the cards to do whatever he wants but things can change and the Cuomos have always been able to look six steps ahead.
Schneiderman should be looking over his shoulder. Andrew doesn’t look kindly on political rivals or critics.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 11/28/11