Contenders to Succeed N.Y.’s Schneiderman Skew Female, Liberal

(Bloomberg) -- The sudden resignation of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, like the resignation of Governor Eliot Spitzer a decade ago, has created an unexpected opening at the top of the Empire State’s power pyramid, and is likely to set off a scramble among current and former public servants.

As with anything involving politics in New York, the quest to become the successor to Schneiderman, who quit on Tuesday after allegations of abuse, isn’t as simple as running for the office this summer and winning in November. Members of New York’s legislature have the power to appoint someone who could fill out Schneiderman’s current term. Ideally, as far as Democratic state lawmakers are concerned, that individual would then coast to victory in November.

Under state law, the interim replacement will be chosen by a joint vote of both chambers of the state legislature, which is dominated by Democrats.

“The perfect person would be a woman for obvious reasons,” said George Arzt, a political consultant and onetime press secretary to the late Mayor Ed Koch. “It’s the height of me-tooism. A woman has never held one of the top three offices of the state.”

The legislature may just decide to keep Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, as Arzt also suggests, and let the Democratic Party pick its candidate at a convention this summer, or at a primary in September.

Interim Successor

For the interim post, the names circulating among politically connected New Yorkers include Representative Kathleen Rice of Long Island, New York City public advocate Letitia James and Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul. Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein of Brooklyn, whose name was also floated, told WNYC radio that she was “not looking for a change right now.”

Another possibility is Carrie Cohen, a former federal prosecutor now at the Morrison & Foerster LLP law firm. As an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Cohen tried cases involving public corruption and investment fraud, and helped win the original corruption case against Sheldon Silver, the former assembly speaker.

Already, some members of the state’s Democratic Party have reached out to Sean Coffey, who came in third in the 2010 Democratic primary for attorney general, behind Schneiderman and Rice. “My phone has been blowing up with texts and messages,” said Coffey, now an attorney at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, who declined to say what his plans were.

Another strong candidate who is sure to enjoy support in Albany is Todd Kaminsky, a state senator from Long Island. Kaminsky served as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, where he was acting head of the public integrity section. In that role, he prosecuted former state senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr., Assemblyman Jimmy Meng and U.S. Representative Michael Grimm.

Even though Governor Andrew Cuomo has no direct say in the matter, he could end up playing a role. If he favors a particular candidate for the job, he could lobby the legislature for his choice. The legislators, however, would be unlikely to cede to Cuomo’s wishes without extracting some kind of price. Cutting a deal could be politically risky for Cuomo, who faces a well-known primary opponent in Cynthia Nixon.

Potential Candidates

Still, the names of several people from Cuomo’s world have already surfaced as possible candidates to run for the office in November.

One of them, Benjamin Lawsky, a former superintendent of the New York’s Department of Financial Services, established a global reputation for the state agency by leading a series of high-profile settlements with global banks accused of violating U.S. sanctions laws.

Over his four-year tenure, Lawsky secured more than $6 billion in fines and penalties for the state, a financial windfall that allowed Cuomo and the state legislature to invest in large infrastructure projects, including the construction of a Tappan Zee Bridge replacement named for Cuomo’s father, the late Governor Mario Cuomo. Lawsky also served as a federal prosecutor, and worked as Cuomo’s deputy in the New York attorney general’s office, where he oversaw several financial crisis investigations.

Maria Vullo, the current superintendent of the DFS, is another potential Cuomo-aligned candidate. Like Lawsky, she has been an aggressive state regulator, and has secured more than $1 billion in fines and penalties for Albany. Prior to DFS, Vullo worked as a litigator at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, where she was a champion of liberal causes.

Name Recognition

Then there are candidates who are unlikely to find support in Albany, either from the governor’s office or the legislature, but have the name recognition to run a statewide campaign. They include former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout, who said Tuesday that she was “seriously considering” a run.

In his eight years as U.S. attorney, Bharara made a name for himself for prosecuting insider trading cases and for bringing bribery and corruption charges against Silver, the former assembly speaker, and Dean Skelos, the former majority leader of the state senate. Bharara emerged as a fierce critic of President Donald Trump after bring fired abruptly by the president last year.

Teachout, who worked on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004, ran against Cuomo in the New York gubernatorial primary in 2014, accusing him of being soft on vested interests and weak on progressive values. She ran for Congress in 2016 but lost to Republican John Faso.

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