And halfway through his term as A.G., Schneiderman, 58, has become New York’s definitive liberal, using the national prominence his predecessors brought to the office to try to yank an increasingly centrist Democratic Party back toward its progressive roots. He’s become a gatekeeper for the left.The administration responded not by shutting down Schneiderman but by stiffening penalties, creating a commission that included Schneiderman and seating him behind First Lady Michele Obama at the 2012 State of the Union address. The press has rewarded him with attention, including the cover of the The American Prospect.
You get a sense of where his values come from:
“I grew up in the sixties with the sense that things aren’t perfect but we keep moving toward greater equality and greater justice,” Schneiderman says, sitting at his desk in the A.G.’s office, just around the corner from Wall Street. “That was the way the world seemed to me. My grandfather never made it through elementary school. My father went to law school on the G.I. bill. He didn’t get where he got because of small government. He got where he got because of a government that was going to invest in its people.”And also a great sense of the grassroots organizing skills that have allowed him to change business as usual politics:
In the aftermath of the financial crash, the Wall Street bailouts were the hottest progressive button. Schneiderman flew out to meet with California attorney general Kamala Harris in the summer of 2011 to try to get her to join his opposition to the mortgage settlement taking shape in Washington. California was crucial, not only because the state had the greatest number of underwater homeowners but because its decision would get outsize media coverage. Harris was inclined to go along with the majority of A.G.’s, who wanted a faster resolution for homeowners and weren’t equipped to pursue protracted investigations.It's worth a read to a national audience. For one, Schneiderman is clearly a man with a future and I would argue that is because he is one of those rare politicans that can ably combine smart policy with smart politics. For another it takes a very in-depth look at the chilly rivalry between he and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
So Schneiderman mounted a behind-the-scenes effort to change her mind. He’d hired as his chief of staff Neal Kwatra, who had turned the city’s hotel-workers union into a potent political force. Kwatra sees life as a campaign, and now he went about organizing the ground troops, including a group called Californians for a Fair Settlement. Calls and letters were dispatched to pressure President Obama, members of Congress, and most immediately Harris. By late September, though, Harris still hadn’t budged. Schneiderman’s team turned to Gavin Newsom. The telegenic former mayor of San Francisco is now California’s lieutenant governor. Newsom is also expected to be Harris’s main Democratic competitor in a future run for U.S. Senate or governor of California. Schneiderman’s forces enlisted Newsom to oppose the settlement. Coincidentally, the same day that the Los Angeles Times wrote about Newsom’s move, Harris sided with Schneiderman.
Schneiderman says he hasn’t given up on criminal prosecutions, but says it would have helped if more groundwork had been done before he arrived as A.G. “I’m not averse to cases against individuals,” he tells me. “I wasn’t here in 2008, 2009, 2010. We started our investigation last spring.” Left unsaid is that the state A.G. in the early days of the financial crisis was Andrew Cuomo.I know the natural inclination will be to pluck him from NY and find a national position for him.
But in New York AG has been an excellent launching pad for Governor, at least for two of our last three governors. And New York progressives very definitely need a champion at the helm who is not playing footsie with the Republican party at every oppportunity.
And aside from marriage equality for the gays, many NY liberal constituencies from labor to environment to social justice activists have found Cuomo's leadership wanting, to put it diplomatically. Look more closely at the Cuomo budget priorities on AIDS/HIV and youth homeless, and his silence on the long-suffering transgender protection bill, and he's not even that great on the larger portfolio of LGBT issues, just marriage.
The comparison and contrast between Schneiderman and Cuomo can very illuminating to people who are considering their primary vote in the 2016 presidential election.
And associate of Schneiderman's expands:
The larger split is philosophical. “Eric has a very different view of the political landscape than Andrew does,” a Schneiderman associate says. “He thinks the divide between right and left has never been bigger, so that trying to be in the middle, as Andrew is doing, makes no sense.” Schneiderman believes liberal Democrats are on the right side of both the issues and of history. “An extreme conservative movement has taken over the Republican Party, but they have a policy problem and a demographic problem,” he says. “They finally had a chance to implement their policies during the Bush years, and foreign policy was a catastrophe, criminal-justice policy was a catastrophe, and we ended up with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And they’ve run and won on an appeal to fear, but last year they woke up in a country where the ‘other’ had become the majority. They’re appealing to an increasingly small portion of the electorate.”I can't find fault with the persepctive the author, Chris Smith, provides and recommend the article, titled "The Left Flank," as a good read to anyone interesting in how the progressive movement evolves and influences the rest of the political structure. Schneiderman is now, as he long has in his career, fighting the good fight to move the Overton window left.