Schneiderman strikes back

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is positioning himself to be Governor Schneiderman. If Andrew decides not to seek a third term (his polling numbers are way down), Schneiderman wants to be Johnny on the Spot. He wants to be the logical next governor. His relationship with Governor Cuomo is reported to be quite shaky.

Cuomo has a fierce “take-no-prisoners” reputation and it’s gutsy of Schneiderman, an ambitious but more naturally timid soul, to take him on. Schneiderman has a lot going for him. Additionally, recent history tells us that New Yorkers have been electing their attorneys general to the top job. That list includes names like Spitzer and Cuomo, himself.

Ironically, the voters like the attorney general not only because he has statewide name recognition but because they see him as a crime fighter. While the AG’s Office was historically more of a civil law place, recent attorneys general like Cuomo and Spitzer have tried hard to make the work of that office sound like they are crime fighters. Hey, if that’s what people want, that’s what they are going to get.

Nothing gets the attention of New Yorkers like corruption. Every time they turn around, someone is being hauled out of the Legislature and off to the pokey. So, one and one make two. If you want to be governor, you have to promise to clean up Albany. Funny thing about that — Andrew Cuomo made that pledge and ended up with a lot of egg on his face. He even appointed a Moreland Act Commission to root out corruption in the Legislature. Remember how he did that? He asked Attorney General Schneiderman to deputize each member of the commission as an Assistant Attorney General. That was because Cuomo couldn’t have his executive commission investigate the Legislature but the Attorney General could root out crime in any branch of government.

Then the unthinkable happened. For some mysterious or not so mysterious reason, Cuomo disbanded his corruption investigating Moreland Act Commission, saying that he formed it and he could disband it. You will all remember that the whole thing stunk like old fish and Cuomo is still paying the price. While the story was that Cuomo had to disband the commission in order to trade for what turned out to be a very bad ethics package from Legislature, there were other more nefarious rumors that circulated including the fact that the Moreland Commission actors were going after some folks who had given money to the governor himself.

Eric Schneiderman had a huge stake in the commission, and when Cuomo disbanded the group, Schneiderman only had a few perfunctory comments. So it’s not surprising that he has now called for yet another very public try on ethics reform. He needs to get ahead of this issue. To reform things, he wants to prohibit legislators from accepting any outside employment because that is one of the most corruptive parts of our political system. You go to a lawyer who is also a senator and you figure that, like chicken soup, it can’t hurt to have him or her representing you. So you put a prohibition on major outside employment, just like the United States Congress did. Of course, that doesn’t preclude all other potential avenues of corruption, like getting your son or daughter a job, for example. It also means that a bunch of people who already have a lot of money won’t have to scrounge but it is still a good idea. Schneiderman also wants a longer, four-year term, presumably so that legislators don’t have to spend all their time raising money to run for re-election. Yes, but that removes the choices even further away from the people.

Schneiderman is doing the right thing but my bet is that he will have to contend with a very angry Andrew.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/1/15

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