We live in a time when news, real news, flies by us at warp speed. It is often hard to digest and analyze a story before the next big one comes along.
That being said, the Eric Schneiderman story that broke yesterday must have set some sort of record. The New Yorker article appeared online at about 6:45 pm. Schneiderman resigned by about 10 pm. Gee, there was hardly any time for other pols to call for him to resign before the deal broke.
Schneiderman may be gone but his legal problems might not be. Here’s an incredible bit of irony (make that a double dose of irony): His office has just begun an investigation into the work of Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, Jr. for Vance’s handling of a Harvey Weinstein matter. Yesterday Vance announced that his office would start an investigation into Schneiderman’s case.
All this is amazing. During the past twelve years the governor, state comptroller, and attorney general have resigned in disgrace. The Speaker of the Assembly and Majority Leader of the Senate were removed along with many members of the state legislature.
The timing of all this adds to the political intrigue. Section 41 of the Public Officers Law provides that a vacancy in the office of attorney general shall be filled fill by joint ballot of the State Senate and the State Assembly. Given that Democrats far outnumber Republicans in the Legislature, an appointment to the office will be a Democrat. The law does not provide a timeframe for when such an appointment must be made.
Article IV of the State Constitution provides that the qualifications for the office of attorney general shall be the same as that for governor, lieutenant governor and comptroller, namely: United States citizenship; at least 30 years of age; and a resident of the state for at least five years.
There are at least a dozen names already floating out there for an interim appointment – more on that follows. How quickly the Legislature might want to act on an appointment is unknown at this time.
Complicating matters a bit more, the Democratic State Committee is scheduled to meet on May 23 and 24 on Long Island to select its candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general. There has already been some confusion about whether Governor Andrew Cuomo wants Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul to run for another term. Now there is another spot on the party ticket that is up in the air.
Would there be some coordination between who the Legislature might appoint on an interim basis, and who the state party would designate as their candidate for attorney general, or would they go their separate ways? Would it even matter?
In 1994 a vacancy in the office of attorney general occurred when Robert Abrams resigned. The Legislature appointed Assemblyman Oliver Koppell, who then lost a primary to Karen Burstein. Burstein lost the general election to Dennis Vacco.
So whoever the Legislature might appoint, or whoever the State Democratic Committee might designate, the process of selecting the next elected attorney general is not going to be resolved anytime soon. One simple solution would be for the Legislature to appoint an interim AG who would not run for the office, and then let the party convention and the September primary sort things out.
The Republicans, by the way, have been focusing on Manny Alicandro, an attorney from Manhattan, as their AG candidate.
Here is a list compiled by Politico of potential Democratic candidates, in alphabetical order: Preet Bharara, Jeff Dinowitz, Mike Gianaris, Kathy Hochul, Brad Hoylman, Letitia James, Todd Kaminsky, Joe Lentol, Stephanie Miner, Danny O’Donnell, Kathleen Rice and Helene Weinstein. Bob McCarthy reports in the Buffalo News that Leecia Eve of Buffalo is also a potential candidate.
Hochul continues to say that she wants to stand for re-election for lieutenant governor, maneuvering by the governor’s team notwithstanding. Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner notes that Hochul does not have a law license in New York State, although she is a law school graduate. But as noted above, the qualifications for attorney general are pretty simple and Hochul qualifies.
An intense Democratic primary is likely. If he chooses to run it would seem that Preet Bharara would be the odds-on favorite, even though he has never run for office and currently has no political organization in place. If he won Donald Trump would have reason to be nervous, but so would lots of other politicians in New York State.
For Republicans who might be cheering Schneiderman’s demise, I would suggest that any and all Democratic candidates for New York AG will promote an aggressive approach to any investigations into Donald Trump and Michael Cohen that have already begun or that may occur in the future.
Being a state attorney general these days can certainly be a major challenge and a great opportunity for any ambitious politician. So, let the games begin.
A historical footnote
The suggestion about Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul being mentioned as a possible candidate for attorney general brings to mind a story that former Erie County and New York State Democratic Chairman Joe Crangle told me and countless others a couple or more times over the years.
In 1966, in Joe’s second year as county chairman, the New York State Democratic Party held its nominating convention in Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium. It was the last such convention. By 1970 the party began choosing its statewide candidates by primary election.
Frank Sedita was Mayor of Buffalo at the time and he had an interest in being the party’s candidate for lieutenant governor. Joe gave it a shot, but the New York City pols who controlled the convention wanted to run Howard Samuels for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Frank O’Connor. They suggested to Crangle that Sedita should instead run for attorney general against incumbent Republican Louis Lefkowitz. Crangle had to go back to Sedita to break the news.
Which he did as follows: “Mayor, wouldn’t you rather be a general than a lieutenant?” To which Mayor Sedita replied, “yes, I would rather be a general.” And so it went.