Summer on the Campaign Trail with Attorney General Hopeful Sen. Schneiderman

This summer, five New York Democrats are spending their days in a high stakes race for the Democratic Party's nomination for state Attorney General. WNYC's Bob Hennelly has been following the campaign and has this profile of State Sen. Eric Schneiderman.

On a recent day this summer, the Democrats running for Attorney General have a debate double header scheduled. Sen. Eric Schneiderman, who has represented northern Manhattan for more than ten years, is never laid back when it comes to telling an audience why he would be their best choice. 

“I certainly think I have the strongest record on public integrity of anyone in this race,” Schneiderman says. “Having worked against the Republican machine in the state Senate for years, and taken them on and ultimately put them out of business."

Schneiderman wants voters to see him as a reformer willing to go after members of his own party, if they deserve it. He wears his move to expel former Democratic Sen. Hiram Monserrate, after his domestic violence conviction, as a badge of honor.

"I am the only person here who actually has lead the effort to throw out a corrupt senator when I led the effort to expel Hiram Monserrate,” Schneiderman says. “Some of us have been writing and fighting for ethics bills and anti-corruption bills. Until this campaign, despite all of your campaign contributions, I never saw you take a step towards reform."

Yet Schneiderman found himself on the defensive after denying allegations that he left the scene of a fender bender where his car did $3,000 in damage.  When quizzed again about it he does his best to keep his cool.  

“Do you think that's the case and is it fair for voters to question you about it?” the moderator asks.

“The voters talk to me about mortgage fraud, they talk to me about the plague of illegal guns, what I’m doing to take on insurance companies, abuses by debt collectors. Not one voter has actually asked me about this, I think with all due respect, the questions have been answered and it’s time to move on,” Schneiderman says.

At a friendlier venue, in front of City Hall, Schneiderman is there to get a critical union endorsement from the New York Hotel Workers’ Union. Other candidates may have money, but Schneiderman is banking on his legions of union supporters and big name politicians, like City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.  In a low turnout contest, like September's primary election may be, Schneiderman hopes unions like 1199 SEIU and the Hotel Workers’ Union will get his name out to the public.

Peter Ward the president of the New York Hotel & Motel Trades Council says Schneiderman has been a friend of the union for the last 10 years. Ward says Schneiderman has “always been there every time we asked him to be there for us, it’s simply the only conclusion we can come to.”

Schneiderman was a partner with a corporate law firm, but has long been associated with activist groups, like Citizens Action. He was also a major force behind the repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. On the steps of City Hall he has his jacket off and his sleeves rolled up.

“And we’re going to work hard together for years to come in the future to ensure that people treat wage theft the way they treat car theft,” he says as the crowd applauds.

Afterwards one reporter asks if a self described pro-union progressive like Schneiderman can win the election.

“Problem is, working men and women across the country didn’t share enough in the wealth they helped to create. People aren’t mad at unions, people aren’t mad at working men and women. They’re mad at the fat cats who drove the economy to the ground,” Schneiderman says.

By early that evening, the audience, for yet another forum, is filing into a local law school auditorium. Schneiderman takes time to reflect on the long night ahead. 

“I have to fly, I have to get a flight, I’m going upstate. I just flew—I got in from Buffalo last night, big state, a lot of territory to cover,” he says.

Schneiderman, who got his start as a Deputy Sheriff in the Berkshires, tells the audience of lawyers that fighting corruption as attorney general means looking beyond Albany.

“A lot of times people will not go to the local authorities on public corruption issues because the local authorities are part of the culture of corruption,” Schneiderman says. “The attorney general has got to go to the regional offices all around the state.”

Schneiderman bows out of the debate early to catch a flight.

“Commercial aircraft, gentlemen,” he says to reassure.

And with that, the hard driving candidate is off.