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Schneiderman II

December 11, 2014

Here’s an affirmative thing that you can say about Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. His recent comments on the Eric Garner matter were compelling. He took the initiative. He spoke eloquently.  It was clear that he really does care about this particular issue. Whether you agreed with him or not, you saw a person who spoke with confidence and authority.

Now let us say something else. Where the hell has this impressive person been over the last four years?

A short digression here.  The Schneiderman myth, which he sold well enough to beat John Cahill, who was surprisingly ineffectual and uncomfortable in the race, is that he’s a national progressive leader. He points to his role in protecting consumers. And yes, President Obama did appoint him to a national task force investigating the cause of the mortgage crisis. But guess what? The reason the President did that was to keep Schneiderman from interfering with the probe. The President bought him off with a little media attention and subsequently Schneiderman made no substantive contribution to the effort. Drill down on that if you don’t believe us. See if you can find a major contribution his investigators made to the effort.

Schneiderman, in truth, has been the least focused, least aggressive Attorney General in the modern era.  Even Dennis Vacco was more dedicated to the job.  What’s the problem exactly? Well, that’s hard to say. At one point, Schneiderman was a person whom everyone regarded as intelligent, engaging, accessible and conscientious.  Then he got himself elected as Attorney General and he morphed into a bizarre, aloof, disengaged person. The stories about him are in wide circulation in New York and Albany and the sources are internal.

He cloisters himself in his office to do yoga for several hours a day. He disrobes and turns up the heat in the office to do it. He can’t be interrupted while he exercises and then meditates.

He goes on yoga retreats and is unavailable for days on end.

He leaves the state regularly to visit a companion and is checked out for long periods.

He has an “eye condition,” which, after being reported, seemed to disappear.

Now nobody begrudges a man his personal interests or his relationships or his grooming habits – so long as he respects the public office that he holds. But Schneiderman, all too often, has shown a lack of interest in the activities of his office and the people who work for him.

He only talks to a handful of staffers and then only those who’d tell him what he wants to hear.  Except for a few pet projects, he takes no interest in anybody’s work. He’s in a bubble within a bubble in Manhattan.

The result of all this was a cratering of morale in the office and a mass exodus of talent, including several press aides who begged him to pay attention to the rest of the state outside Manhattan only to be rebuffed in ways that were demeaning.

The result was the degrading of the office’s capabilities to do sophisticated investigations and make good cases.

The result was a decline in the reputation of the office. In fact, no person truly knowledgeable of the tradition of the New York Attorney General’s office going back decades – from Lefkowitz on – thinks that Schneiderman performed well over the last four years.

The only thing he does appear to have done well is work a single media outlet – the New York Times – and convince its reporters, editors and editorial board members that he was a sympathetic figure in the Moreland mess. Everyone should be honest on this point – the Times, progressive groups and others are invested in Schneiderman because of his stances, not because he has real accomplishments.

OK, so why this withering criticism? And why now?

It’s because we think the man has the potential to be a good attorney general – and maybe more – but it requires him to stop the weird behavior and make a real commitment to the office.  That means working hard. That means surrounding yourself with good people and taking their advice to develop an interest in issues outside of New York City.  There’s a whole state out there that he simply did not pay attention to over the last four years.

Again, we’re convinced that Schneiderman has real talent.  There are flashes of it at times like the other day, but then there are inexplicable long lapses into weirdness and disengagement.

We sincerely hope somebody gets to Schneiderman and talks to him about these and other concerns. We hope he listens and that in his second term he will begin to live up to his potential.

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