Mr. Schneiderman’s allies hope it will be a definitive case for his office. They share a view that Mr. Spitzer, and to a greater degree Mr. Cuomo, were more focused on generating headlines than actually seeing investigations all the way through.
“Cuomo and Spitzer were pretty fortunate to have the 10-year run that they did,” said one veteran of the attorney general’s office. “Schneiderman isn’t going to find as much space for an active attorney general to step into.”
But for Mr. Schneiderman and his supporters, this is precisely the point. Merely electing Democrats isn’t enough. The attorney general wants a movement, a way to show how progressive politics can be effected when your side is in charge, and especially when the other side is dictating the terms of the debate.
“On the mortgage-backed securities case, a lot of my colleagues are looking to settle. But I have made it clear to my colleagues and to the federal agencies that are involved that I will not participate in this settlement that provides a broad release for financial services institutions before a thorough investigation is done, and we will insure that anyone is engaged in wrongdoing is held accountable.”
He adds, “It seems like the feds are just like, ‘Let’s move on and get this out of the way.’”
“The thing about Eric is that he is a fighter,” said Ms. vanden Heuvel, a supporter and long-time friend. “We have a president who has not been willing to find points of conflict in order to even educate the American people … Eric is someone who is willing to take his own side in an argument. Too often in this country, liberals have ducked and bobbed and not been willing to do that.”
In 2008, Mr. Schneiderman penned an article for Ms. vanden Heuvel’s magazine in which he implored liberals to not sacrifice transformational politics for what he called “transactional politics.” The latter involved electing allies and forging compromises to get the best deal possible in the legislature; the former meant shifting the terms of the debate to beat back the tide of reactionary politics.
Implicitly, at least, it is a rebuke to what is currently happening in Washington, where liberals are dismayed that President Obama appears to keep negotiating for himself.
But Mr. Schneiderman’s op-ed also served as something of a rebuke to Mr. Cuomo, who campaigned last year on the government-slashing rhetoric of the right, and who overachieved in his first year in Albany by packing legislative deals on top of other legislative deals.
Veterans of the A.G.’s office say that the relationship between an attorney general and governor is destined to be fraught with tension. The attorney general is the governor’s lawyer, and most of the office’s work involves defending state agencies from lawsuits. But the two also co-exist in a rather nebulous sphere where the prerogatives of the two offices, and the credit for sweeping victories, awkwardly overlap.
Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Schneiderman first met during Mario Cuomo’s 1982 campaign for governor, when the elder Mr. Cuomo rallied from 40 points down to defeat Ed Koch. Still, Mr. Cuomo quietly backed Mr. Schneiderman’s chief opponent, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, during the 2010 campaign—though aides argue it had more to do with the desire to have a woman from the suburbs on the ticket.
Soon after he was sworn in, Mr. Cuomo proposed legislation that would have added sweeping new provisions to his portfolio, and ones that could have transferred away much of Mr. Schneiderman’s ability to investigate Wall Street malfeasance. Mr. Cuomo has also demurred in turning over ethics enforcement to the A.G.’s office. Mr. Schneiderman has told friends that he feels himself under “the glare” of Mr. Cuomo, and he has undergone criticism from some allies that he hasn’t more aggressively opposed some of the governor’s initiatives.
For his part, Mr. Schneiderman allied with Comptroller Tom DiNapoli—who suffered a drawn-out investigation by Mr. Cuomo when he was A.G.—to expand his office’s power to investigate public corruption.
“The relationship between the governor and the A.G. is like that of any lawyer with a pain-in-the-ass client,” said one former Cuomo-era official.
The job is made even more difficult by the fact that the past two attorneys general served with their eyes firmly focused on the governor’s mansion. Mr. Schneiderman has asked friends to refrain from even making jokes about him as the “awaiting governor,” and those who know him say that although any statewide elected official can’t help but see himself in the governor’s mansion, Mr. Schneiderman doesn’t seem consumed with ambition to get there quickly.
“Some of the work I am doing won’t yield results tomorrow, or next year, but if we don’t do it we are going to keep losing ground over the long haul,” he said. “This is a moment for a redefinition of American politics.”
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