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New York voters are fortunate in their choices for attorney general. The Democratic incumbent, Eric T. Schneiderman, has been an aggressive force in the office, if not quite as ostentatiously as his two immediate predecessors. His Republican challenger, John P. Cahill, is a political veteran who is nonetheless running for his first elective office. He is smart and capable and leaves little doubt that he would be up to the job.
What Cahill hasn’t done, though, is make a strong enough case for change. While Schneiderman has delivered a couple of disappointments during his term in office – as all incumbents do – he has by and large been an effective advocate for New Yorkers and deserves re-election.
Schneiderman won his first term as attorney general four years ago, following Andrew M. Cuomo in the office. Before that, he was an effective state senator representing parts of Manhattan and the Bronx.
While he has not been bathed in the limelight in the way that Cuomo and his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, were, Schneiderman has nonetheless enjoyed a number of high-profile successes. Prominent among them was his leading role in the effort to make major banks pay $60 billion for their roles in the 2008 financial crisis. Some $4 billion of that money came to help New York and its distressed homeowners.
In addition, his office has prosecuted more than 50 people in official corruption cases; cracked down on abusive practices of companies collecting on payday loans; focused on cases of mortgage securities fraud; led the effort to create the I-STOP program to combat the problem of prescription drug abuse; and went after drug gangs, using recovered funds to buy bulletproof vests for police departments. It’s a strong record, with two notable blemishes.
First, no one from any of the banks involved in the economic collapse went to prison, though many deserved it. Schneiderman says he was more focused on securing deals to prevent a recurrence, and while that is certainly a useful strategy, it would also have sent an appropriate message if some of the avaricious people who helped to bring on the worst recession in 80 years had been treated to striped suits.
It would also have been good to see him take a strong stand against the unwise role played by Cuomo’s office in the specially empowered Moreland Commission that he and Cuomo launched to fight corruption in a deeply corrupt state government. Schneiderman was largely silent in that and has declined to answer questions about it since, citing the investigatory role taken over by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
Indeed, that failure sums up most of Cahill’s criticism of Schneiderman. It’s not a minor thing, but it studiously ignores the other important accomplishments of Schneiderman’s term.
Cahill has served the state well in previous positions, including as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, chief of staff to then-Gov. George E. Pataki and, in 2005, principal coordinator of the task of rebuilding lower Manhattan after the 2001 terror attacks.
Cahill plainly has the talent and desire to serve the public, and in truth, he could make a strong attorney general. But New York already has one of those, and Schneiderman has earned his way to a second term.