It seems, in some ways, like an old, familiar story. A preacher who rails against homosexuality is caught in a gay relationship. Politicians who carry on about “family values” are caught cheating on their spouses. Too often among humans – especially those in positions of influence – hypocrisy is the coin of the realm.
That seems to be the case with Eric Schneiderman, New York’s now-former attorney general who had positioned himself as a champion of the #MeToo movement. Schneiderman announced his resignation on Monday, only hours after a story in The New Yorker reported credible, detailed accounts of shocking violence by Schneiderman against four women.
Schneiderman denied the allegations, contending that, “In the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity. I have not assaulted anyone. I have never engaged in nonconsensual sex, which is a line I would not cross.”
Nevertheless, he quit, accurately acknowledging that the allegations “will effectively prevent me from leading the office’s work at this critical time.”
It was the right decision. The Attorney General’s Office is engaged in critical work that includes important efforts to enforce state election laws. In addition, the office comes up for election this year. Schneiderman would have been a distraction and a hindrance to voters who have a right to expect a vigorous campaign by qualified candidates.
Schneiderman’s quick resignation recalls a similar decision by former Rep. Chris Lee, who speedily stepped down in 2011 after he was shown to have engaged inappropriate conduct. With that, he spared himself and his family from further embarrassment and his constituents from ineffective representation. Schneiderman may be hoping for the same.
Still, there are critical differences. According to The New Yorker report, Schneiderman struck these women. He choked at least two of them and threatened to kill them if they broke up with him. Those two women were identified in the story.
Alcohol also seems to have played a prominent role in these reports of abuse. According to one of the women, he frequently drank two bottles of wine a night and chased that with scotch. That surely influenced his conduct, though it neither explains nor justifies it. Plenty of problem drinkers manage not to strike, choke or threaten the lives of their partners.
In his public life, Schneiderman seems to have been an able and focused attorney general. He took on the problem of election law violations and moved to protect the state’s interests against actions of the federal government. His resignation will cause losses to the public, but he had to go.
Lawmakers must now act. By law, a Legislature then in session is required to appoint a successor, but the post is up for re-election this November. Assembly Democrats will drive this decision, based on their numbers.
The Legislature should leave the ultimate choice to voters and do nothing more than appoint an able and credible caretaker – someone who does not want the permanent job and won’t be distracted by the necessary fundraising.
But lawmakers should act promptly – in the coming days, not after their conventions later this month. New Yorkers need a duly appointed attorney general, not someone tentatively filling the spot until lawmakers act. Too many important matters are on the docket, including the case against G. Steven Pigeon, the political operative based in Western New York.
In the meantime, Schneiderman needs to recognize that as bad as matters are, they can – and probably will – get worse. He needs help. The question is whether he is smart enough to get it.