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Opinion: In New Role, Will Schneiderman Remain a Liberal Crusader?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 - 09:37 AM

The announcement that Attorney General Schneiderman has been tapped by President Obama to be a leader of the task force investigating the financial fraud epidemic has excited New York progressives… mostly.

Since he was a State Senator, Schneiderman has been a reform-minded, good-government, left-leaning champion.  In his race for Attorney General, he beat out a crowded primary field running as an unapologetic liberal.  Once in office, he didn't disappoint - taking leading stances on environmental regulation, civil rights, and his refusal to go along with a bum deal to protect the architects of our financial crisis.

His refusal to go meekly with the push by the 50 State Attorneys General working group to let the big banks off the hook got him kicked off its steering committee.  He got phone calls from HUD Director - and former NYC Housing Commissioner - Shaun Donovan pressuring him to back down. 

But to balance the bullying that ranged from the White House to the New York Post editorial board, Schneiderman was buoyed by progressive voices from CREDO, MoveOn and the Nation, thanking him (and pressuring him) for insisting on a real investigation.  Other AGs from Delaware, Massachusetts, California and Nevada showed courage to pursue justice instead of an easy deal, and New Yorkers were proud of our AG being part of, or at the head of, that pack.

So, it's no surprise the announcement of his new role in the federal investigation was cheered by many.  But it was also met with a good measure of skepticism.  Critics worried this whether Schneiderman was making a deal: Getting a primetime post in exchange for quieting down.  Or less transactionally, would his being on the inside suppress him?

His defenders argue that he hasn't backed down so far, why assume he'll back down now?

His critics note that he also hasn't prosecuted anyone yet for these financial crimes, so why would that change either?  He's already had New York's powerful Martin Act at his disposal - and while he's used it as a threat, he hasn't used it as a weapon.

I'd suggest that while we can't know what will happen, we should look at what has happened - not just at his accomplishments, but also at his temperament.

In the State Senate, he was such a loud-mouth, that Republicans - with the tacit agreement of some Democrats - tried to redistrict him out of office by shoving him from the traditionally liberal Upper West Side into a largely Spanish-speaking neighborhood.  So Schneiderman learned Spanish.

When a coup on the State Senate jeopardized the Democrats' first majority in recent memory, only a deal with the corrupt and now indicted Pedro
Espada gave the Dems any role in governing.  Schneiderman still used that term to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws - and then worked to oust Espada by backing progressive insurgent, and now State Senator Gustavo Rivera.

As Andrew Cuomo headed toward an election that would send him to the Governors Mansion, he quietly signaled support for a more conservative candidate for Attorney General, a move many thought was intended to prevent any other strong voice from gaining a state-wide megaphone.  Schneiderman remained outspokenly progressive - in contrast to Cuomo's centrism - and won the race.

Schneiderman has moved ahead by staying true to his values, showing a sense of fight, and enough savvy to work with the tools within reach.  As an AG, we've seen him put those tools to use on a range of issues; and though he hasn't pursued financial criminals yet through the Martin Act, he has prevented bad deals from being struck.

It's reason to believe in Schneiderman, to give him the benefit of the doubt.  He's a man who has made progressives cheer, and consistently made New Yorkers proud.  So now, let's help him - and and continue to push him - to keep doing the same.

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