Eric Schneiderman, center, in 2014.
Photo by Patrick Cashin, courtesy the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York.
It makes little sense to be grossed out at discovering that a prominent New York politician is a two-faced, self-aggrandizing hypocrite, just as there is no point in being grossed out at vultures for eating rotting roadkill. It is in their DNA.
Anything and anyone that emerges from the ooze that is the Albany statehouse should be presumed slimy. Eric Schneiderman is just the latest in a long line of Albany leaders who have been disgraced, convicted or both for their conduct in office. Even if observers shouldn’t be surprised, however, it seems that Schneiderman’s peers – who have seen their fair share of political falls from grace – were taken aback by the abrupt dismantling of the attorney general’s reputation.
Schneiderman resigned on Monday just hours after four women accused him of physical assault. The attorney general, as no news outlet failed to register, had long cultivated an image as a champion of women’s rights, including publicly praising the journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein scandal and filing a lawsuit against Weinstein and his company in the aftermath.
Granted, with respect to any potential criminal prosecution, New York’s recent top law officer deserves the presumption of innocence that he himself tended to gloss over in his countless press releases and public statements about his endless efforts to harass the favorite targets of the political left. Schneiderman has emphatically denied the allegations raised against him in a New Yorker article. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that these allegations, if prosecuted and proven, could potentially get him labeled as a violent sex offender. So much for this great defender of women.
But where is the surprise? At the same time Schneiderman relentlessly invented pretexts on which to challenge the likes of Exxon over climate change, he also studiously avoided looking at the criminal shenanigans happening right inside the Albany Capitol. That job was left to the feds. Schneiderman’s work was always about what could benefit Schneiderman.
So it is interesting to see the calculation that some of Schneiderman’s reported victims made before they came public. They had to ask themselves whether they wanted to take down a politician whose policy preferences, at least to the extent he stated and pursued them publicly, were in sync with their own. One of Schneiderman’s accusers, an attorney who declined to allow the New Yorker to print her name for fear of reprisals, explained her decision not to come forward the time: “[…] back then, I believed that it was a one-time incident. And I thought, He’s a good attorney general, he’s doing good things. I didn’t want to jeopardize that.”
Eventually, as Schneiderman continued to portray himself as a hero of the #MeToo movement, the cognitive dissonance became too great. The women did, in fact, come forth to topple him. It wasn’t quick, and it certainly wasn’t easy, but in the end they did what needed to be done.
Meanwhile, the first steps in the investigation into Schneiderman’s conduct merely underline the dysfunction inherent in New York politics. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the night after Schneiderman resigned that Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas would oversee the investigation into his conduct, neatly sidestepping Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. Vance wasted no time lashing out at the governor, objecting to Cuomo’s concerns about potential conflicts of interest. Vance himself is under investigation for failing to bring charges against Weinstein after a 2015 investigation; the investigation into Vance's behavior was launched by Schneiderman.
We will not find any saints in politics anywhere. We certainly don’t have one in the White House, whether we mean his treatment of women or his actions and statements on a variety of other topics. But this is something we knew about Donald Trump decades ago – at least as early as when we first heard his name linked to that of Marla Maples. Trump never cast himself as some sort of white knight defender of women.
Donald Trump’s voters knew they were voting for a candidate who reflected policy choices, as opposed so some exemplar of morality. Not so Schneiderman’s supporters. And if New Yorkers are honest with themselves, they will recognize that their state’s political system is so repulsive to the people of first-rate skills who can be successful elsewhere that surprises like Schneiderman’s downfall are bound to keep happening. So much so, that nothing should really come as a surprise anymore.