New York attorney general’s resignation further proves broken system
At 6:46 p.m. on May 7, Eric Schneiderman was the attorney general of New York state. He was a reliable ally to progressive Democrats. He was riding on a 52 percent approval rating, was almost certain to win re-election to a third term in November, and had a rising political profile that put him on a path to succeed Andrew Cuomo as governor whenever that time came.
At 6:47 p.m., The New Yorker published a damning story featuring four women accusing Schneiderman of choking, slapping, threatening to kill them, and other forms of physical abuse.
The details were expletive and the damage was extreme. Two hours and 58 minutes after the story was published online, the attorney general announced he would be resigning.
In less than three hours, the man who had been the lead face in the lawsuit against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein for his own accusations of sexual abuse had become the latest high-profile powerful man accused of the same, and was brought down by the same magazine that spurred the #MeToo movement. And in less than a day, New York’s chief law enforcement officer turned into a former chief law enforcement officer now under a criminal investigation.
It was a stunning and dramatic fall from grace — one that adds Schneiderman’s name to the long list of New York officials who have been forced to leave office because of scandal.
One might say that these allegations, while troubling and disgusting as they are, have no impact on Schneiderman’s ability to fulfil his duties as attorney general. On the contrary, Schneiderman’s alleged actions fit right in with the culture of Albany that makes it the embarrassing symbol of legislative wrongdoing and the ethics desert that it is.
Indeed, it was one decade ago this very spring when we saw then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer resign after being caught on a wiretap arranging to meet with a prostitute at a Washington, D.C. hotel — becoming the first New York governor to leave office because of scandal in nearly a century.
His immediate successor, David Paterson, had to pay a $62,125 fine for taking free 2009 World Series tickets from the Yankees and then lying under oath about it.
Cuomo himself came under fire in 2014 when he shut down the commission he created to investigate corruption in Albany once it became known that they were investigating his office.
And of course, there’s the fact that 40 other state officials have been sanctioned, convicted, or accused of criminal activity since 2000, including former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose retrial of his 2015 conviction of wire fraud and extortion is ongoing as we speak.
Schneiderman and Spitzer aren’t the only New York government workers whose careers collapsed over sexual or generally abusive behavior. Sam Hoyt, the former state assemblyman and regional president of Empire State Development’s Buffalo office, was accused by Lisa Marie Carter of groping and kissing her. Former Assemblyman Vito Lopez resigned in 2013 due to former aides’ allegations of sexual harassment. Ten years before that, Michael Boxley, an aide to Sheldon Silver, was arrested in a rape case. In 2009, Hiram Monserrate, a former state senator from Queens, was convicted of domestic violence.
While taking millions of dollars in bribes and sexual assault are two different crimes with two different consequences, they stem from the same New York problem: people (mostly men) entrenched in power, who then decide to abuse that power, and at the same time use that power to do the abusing.
That problem is one New York has known more or less since its founding. Since it is one of the most populated states in the country and its namesake city happens to be the financial and entertainment capital of the world, its influence is magnificent and those who drive the influence are paramount.
We can talk about ethics reform and domestic abuse legislation (which ironically was in discussion in the Assembly during Schneiderman’s takedown). We can talk about closing campaign finance loopholes and passing laws that crack down on sexual harassment, but we all know it’s the fundamental way Albany operates that has to change in order to prevent any more Silvers, Spitzers or Schneidermans from using their public positions for personal gain and believing they are above the law.
No piece of legislation can change the system, only people can. And only people who first change the system can enact the kind of reforms that can make the system actually work for the people it is supposed to represent.
This is the same system that Eric Schneiderman publicly railed against, and the same one that ultimately he became a part of.
That’s what makes changing it so hard.
Luke Parsnow is a digital producer at CNY Central (WSTM NBC 3/ WTVH CBS 5/ WSTM CW6) and an award-winning columnist at The Syracuse New Times in Syracuse, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” by clicking “Follow” below and follow his updates on Twitter at http://twitter.com/coolhand_luke88