In the quest to maintain a Democrat majority it seems easy to overlook the race for New York State Attorney General. Considering a powerful social and economic justice policy position where the jurisdiction includes Wall Street and the traditional influence this office has had over media and talk shows it's not about majority but justice vs. injustice.
Now Eric Schneiderman who is committed to "protecting homeowners and consumers from bad actors on Wall Street" faces a Republican who has suggested that he would "de-emphasize the high-profile securities fraud cases that defined the tenures of Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo and Eliot Spitzer." In a nation where the banking lobbyist induced false claim that "sound economics means hands off Wall St." is too often heard, think back the early 1990's when nobody seemed interested in the big money crimes and Eliot Spitzer did much to change the national focus.
But Senator Schneiderman represents so much more that that. Not just a politician but a public servant with the energy and willpower to fight for the people. Looking at what this man has to offer in this high profile office with the power to steer the national debate, it seems obvious that a NY loss would be a setback for all Americans.
Once you consider what Eric Schneiderman has to offer a general election in a blue state like New York would seem like a cake walk. Sadly that is far from the reality of New York politics.
Two weeks ago in the Democratic primary State Senator Eric Schneiderman's progressive issues narrowly won over a Long Island law and order candidate in a race that pretty much came down to New York City vs. New York State. That Long Island law and order candidate, Kathleen Rice, who focused most of her mud slinging on Senator Schneiderman and had much more in common with the present Republican opponent almost won in a Democrats only primary.
Now with a great Democrat coming out of a tough primary facing someone who ran unopposed for the Republican nomination, the race for Attorney General is the closest of the five statewide races in New York. Last week a Quinnipiac University survey "showed Democratic state Senator Eric Schneiderman of Manhattan with 37 percent support and Republican Staten Island District Attorney Daniel M. Donovan Jr. with 36 percent." Better numbers can be found in a poll by the Siena Research Institute but "this campaign really hasn’t started to heat up yet" and the Republican holding a 33-25 percent advantage among those needed independent voters is alarming.
In a general election with Republican and independent voters having a say, facing a New York City Republican with several other forces already at work against Mr. Schneiderman's NYC stronghold the simple choice will be blurred by New York politics as usual and a poorly focused media.
"The question is whether you’re going to have an activist attorney general who goes after not just street criminals but also white-collar crime, who is a consumer and environmental advocate, or a more traditional law-and-order enforcement person," said Kenneth Sherrill, a professor of political science at Hunter College.
Who is Eric Schneiderman and what does he stand for? In the present political atmosphere, this man has led the life of a progressive leader that almost seems like fiction. For the past twelve years he has stood high above the crowd of bickering New York politicians and accomplished a great deal in progressive politics.
In 1998 the voters of northwest Manhattan and the Riverdale section of the Bronx sent Eric Schneiderman to Albany to represent the people of the 31st district of the New York State Senate. Even during the darkest era he managed to push through progressive legislature and in 2008 when Democrats captured the majority of the State Senate for the first time in more than four decades Senator Schneiderman went into overdrive.
In those twelve years his popularity with voters in a very blue district has never faltered. The fact that he received 89.97% of the votes in the previous general election says much about his service. It is not just his charming personality or the fact that most voters realize we actually have a representative in Albany working hard for New Yorkers. He is my representative and besides his good work he has been the most responsive to voters of any elected official I've ever encountered. He will call a voter back and no issue is too petty for him. I don't think Eric Schneiderman ever sleeps.
For a better example of how this election could be a "Carpe Diem Moment for Progressives" consider Eric Schneiderman's possible upcoming role in "transformational politics." Back in 2008, sounding more like a progressive blogger that a sitting State Senator, Eric Schneiderman wrote about "transformational politics" in Transforming the Liberal Checklist in The Nation. Those words from 2008 made it hard not to think about Democratic Party leadership that can't ever seem to get past "transactional politics," grasp the concept of a "meaningful movement" or even identify with the word "liberal."
I respectfully suggest that if we want to move beyond short- term efforts to slow down the bone-crushing machinery of the contemporary conservative movement and begin to build a meaningful movement of our own, we need to expand the job descriptions of our elected officials. To do this, we must consider the two distinct aspects of our work: transactional politics and transformational politics.
Transactional politics is pretty straightforward. What's the best deal I can get on a gun-control or immigration-reform bill during this year's legislative session? What do I have to do to elect a good progressive ally in November? Transactional politics requires us to be pragmatic about current realities and the state of public opinion. It's all about getting the best result possible given the circumstances here and now.
Transformational politics is the work we do today to ensure that the deal we can get on gun control or immigration reform in a year--or five years, or twenty years--will be better than the deal we can get today. Transformational politics requires us to challenge the way people think about issues, opening their minds to better possibilities. It requires us to root out the assumptions about politics or economics or human nature that prevent us from embracing policies that will make our lives better. Transformational politics has been a critical element of American political life since Lincoln was advocating his "oft expressed belief that a leader should endeavor to transform, yet heed, public opinion."
But talk is cheap without actions and Mr. Schneiderman did not go to Albany to hear himself talk. He rose above the fray of dysfunctional New York State politics to bring about real reform and push through an enormous amount of progressive laws for the people of New York.
His efforts were critical in passing the Clinic Access Bill, Hate Crimes legislation, the Women's Health and Wellness Act, legislation to increase the minimum wage, and a host of anti-illegal gun, environmental and civil rights laws. He has been recognized for his work on legislation protecting freedom of choice, fair funding for public schools, ethics reform, and the expansion of affordable health care for all New Yorkers. Eric has also been a leading advocate for rational and effective gun laws, and serves as national co-chair of Legislators Against Illegal Guns.
When the Democrats took control of the Senate in January 2009, Eric became Chair of the Senate Codes Committee, which considers legislation related to the state's criminal and civil justice systems. And just months after taking back the Senate, Eric shepherded through sweeping reforms to the notoriously unfair Rockefeller Drug laws. These reforms included an unprecedented expansion of drug treatment as an alternative to prison, gave judges more discretion to divert non-violent drug-addicts to treatment, and increased penalties for drug kingpins.
When you consider the number of decades that Democrats attempted to reform a law that has destroyed the lives of so many New Yorkers, Eric Schneiderman's actions in being the chief sponsor of the Rockefeller Drug Law reforms was very impressive. Now treatment is a solution, judges are actually allowed to judge individuals convicted of drug offenses and the bill was made retroactive, allowing convicted drug offender to apply for rehabilitation treatment or a possibly release.
Even more impressive is a bill Senator Schneiderman sponsored to finally put an end to the Republican gerrymandering of prison populations. New York seems to be the first state to pass an equal rights bill addressing an unfairness that progressives and minority communities have been working to put an end across the nation since and he got it done. Now the 2010 Census will not be as much of an incentive to keep shoving urban residents into upstate prisons since prison economy rural communities will no longer profit politically from the physical presence of New Yorkers with no political voice. Putting an end to this skewing of political district lines and balancing the political power between poor urban communities and these upstate counties is also a step toward "one person, one vote" in the state.
There is also "Ian's Law" to compliment federal health reform. A law that protect New Yorkers from losing insurance when they get sick and are no longer profitable to the insurance companies. By New York political standards it seemed like fast tracking for the people since Eric Schneiderman introduced the law in November of 2009 and David Paterson signed it into law in August.
"The practice of terminating an insurance policy line as a pretext to dropping coverage for individuals who need it most is not only unconscionable – it’s a matter of life and death," said New York state Sen. Eric Schneiderman in a statement. "Ian’s Law holds the insurance industry accountable and protects patients like Ian – and other families who have played by the rules – from being thrown off when they get sick. This is a major breakthrough for patients’ rights."
And recently while fighting a tough battle in the Democratic primary Senator Schneiderman still found time to push through an historic Anti-Fraud Taxpayer Protection Measure that is described as "false claims act on steroids." This legislation not only cracks down on corrupt contractors but also protects New York State whisteblowers in significant ways.
Eric Schneiderman's list of legislative accomplishments is amazing but where Eric Schneiderman came from and how he got there offers another convincing assessment of the character of this progressive leader. He has been working very hard for the people in a seemingly hostile environment for years and since long before voters sent him to Albany to bring about reform.
Eric Schneiderman is a lifelong progressive Democrat who has spent his whole life fighting for justice; equal justice regardless of race, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation or identity; Independent justice without regard to political or special interests; and progressive justice that takes an activist approach to protecting everyday New Yorkers.
After graduating from Amherst College, Eric served for two years as a Deputy Sheriff where he started the first comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment program at the local jail. He attended Harvard Law School and then clerked for two years in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Eric later entered private practice and became a partner at the firm of Kirkpatrick and Lockhart.
Rising up through the very liberal Upper West Side Democratic Clubs, he abandoned a lucrative career in private practice to work as a public-interest lawyer. Eric Schneiderman served the public by building qualifications for Attorney General like working on community based crime prevention programs. Far different from the usual lock them up and throw away the key mentality that is so common here. Public service that was way above what many Democrats campaign on and ranged from advocating for the public financing of elections to suing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority over subway fare increases. "While in private practice, Eric served as counsel to a long list of advocacy and public interest organizations."
For over 10 years he was counsel to the West Side Crime Prevention Program, using innovative legal tools to evict drug dealers and clean up crack dens. As a founder of the Attorney General's Anti-Crime Advocates program and a member of the board of the Lawyer's Committee on Violence, Eric recruited and trained private attorneys to represent community groups striving to protect their neighborhoods from crime.
He served as a legal adviser to the Clean Money, Clean Elections campaign for public financing of elections in 1998, and acted as lead attorney for the NYPIRG Straphangers campaign in a series of historic lawsuits against the MTA.
Albany politics has worked very hard to deserve the very bad reputation with New York voters but because of "his sound judgment, legal expertise, political independence and long history of fighting for government reform," the editorial staff of The New York Times offered a strong endorsement.
Given the sump of Albany politics, we still thought long and hard about whether any member of the Legislature could be entrusted with this job. Mr. Schneiderman has demonstrated beyond a doubt his commitment to cleaner and more transparent government.
Thanks to him, New York now has laws that will make it easier to prosecute fraud in government contracts and end the cynical practice of prison gerrymandering. Other efforts — promoting transparency in Albany and curbing the power of dirty money — have been blocked by political leaders eager to protect the sleazy status quo. His willingness to keep pushing is crucial.
This year, he again bucked his own party leadership, and demonstrated his legal skills, by crafting and pressing the case to expel Hiram Monserrate from the State Senate after the Queens politician was convicted of domestic abuse. It was the first expulsion of an Albany lawmaker in 90 years.
With a proud upstanding history like that of Eric Schneiderman, a few enemies were made along the way. The Senate Republican leadership gerrymandered his district in 2002 in order to get rid of him but failed. There are even more that a few status quo Democrats who would prefer to see his Republican opponent elected with that Republican's promise of of taking the focus elsewhere rather than a Democrat who has advocated for public campaign financing, sponsored the first meaningful Albany ethics overhaul in decades and promises strict enforcement against government corruption.
In Eric Schneiderman's favor is his promise force banks and health insurance to play by the rules and advocate for consumer protection. Neither banks nor insurance companies are very popular in New York and consumers are fed up. "Schneidermans plans to place a public integrity officer in each regional office of the attorney general to root out local wrongdoing." Few if any New Yorkers are going to buy his opponent's sudden interest in sunlight when Eric has always stood for transparency in government. He has been a civil rights and civil liberties leader running against a Republican who could care less. Eric has thirty-plus years of work on behalf of women under his belt and is facing an opponent who wants abortions only in the case of rape and incest and otherwise could not be bothered with woman's rights. Eric is a candidate who stands strong for marriage equity and has promised to use the attorney general post to advocate for same sex marriage who is facing a Republican that has been an outspoken opponent now claiming that equal rights has no place in the attorney general's office. Eric Schneiderman has a long history of close association with organized labor with union workers and just about every progressive or progressive organization working for his election. And of course Eric gets a very strong endorsement from Ian Pearl.
Eric stands on a strong environmental record and worked hard to place a moratorium on "hydrofracking" near the New York City water supply. If NYC residents who drink unfiltered water are made more aware of this issue it would be a plus but upstate residents who are drinking or fear drinking tainted water might get the message. He has been a good friend to New York Teachers but it is hard to tell if a United Federation of Teachers endorsement will help or hurt him with almost every politician and the media trying to convince New Yorkers that the only problem with education is union teachers.
Of the forces stacked against Eric Schneiderman, the present state of media is a big hurdle. Not that there is any hostility toward him and anyone who follows the news closely has seen his accomplishments but people like "The Four Amigos" sell newspapers. Politicians responsible for the the enthusiasm gap receive plenty of follow up stories and convince New Yorkers that there is no hope in politics.
Possibly damaging to the Eric Schneiderman campaign was Crazy Carl beating Rick Lazio in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Insanity sells newspapers and Carl Paladino offers a whole lot of that.
It is a shame because Eric Schneiderman really does a great job of discussing issues with reporters and stood out in the Democratic debates. If there is any truth to the rumor that New York progressives are deflated and might not make it to the polls in November, with Eric Schneiderman being the anti-enthusiasm gap candidate, the media is already too focused on Andrew Coumo vs. Carl Palidino.
Now with Donovan refusing to debate, Rick Lazio would have been the better choice since the media was already over Lazio's one issue "cut taxes but don't say from where" while making the governor's race all about Cordoba House. With the "empty barrels makes the most noise" candidate, precious newspaper copy is being lost and Carl Paladino scaring the hell out of New York Democrats could also draw away some much needed campaign contributions away from Eric Schneiderman and to Andrew Cuomo.
Another fact that might be damaging to the Eric Schneiderman's NYC stronghold is that his opponent is not an upstate Republican but also from New York City. Dan Donovan is from Staten Island but still a familiar name in city newspapers and television news. The Republican has received the endorsement of the Wall Street protecting mayor Michale Bloomberg, probably also to garner some favor with Albany Republicans as he seeks favor with Democrats for his Andrew Cuomo endorsement. The Republican has also received a strong endorsement from former mayor Ed Koch who sadly many New York City residents have not realized is as far from a Democrat as anyone can ever be.
Eric Schneiderman is a dream candidate for progressives but in a general election progressive issues will get lost as so much of the focus will be on street crime and the media misses the message of this good man. Voters are going to hear a bunch of petty non issues and whatever it takes for a Republican to knock his brains out. This race is far from won.
Back in August when Katrina vanden Heuvel from The Nation wrote an Eric Schneiderman endorsement and recalled his words on "transformational politics," the progressive opportunity offered by that sort of thinking getting elevated to the office of Attorney General in New York was undeniable.
In these times when political expedience too often trumps conviction, we need Schneiderman’s "transformational politics." He is someone who will not try to win by changing his positions or rhetoric to move toward the voters, or base his positions on the latest polls. He wins by moving the voters closer to him, and setting a course toward a better future and better possibilities for the citizens of New York and this nation.
While the positive actions of Eliot Spitzer once did much to influence the national debate, think about Eric Schneiderman's far more progressive values, his focus on change receiving media coverage and forcing discussions on Sunday morning talk shows. Americans and the Democratic Party leadership desperately need progressive actions and talk of transformation other than the Tea Party chatter?
There are so many reasons to go to Eric Schneiderman's website and contribute. If you would like to see not just a "Newer Better Democrat" but a candidate who is liberal and proud of it in a powerful office that traditionally receives a great deal of media coverage, has the ability to steer the debate in Washington and across the nation, Eric Schneiderman is your man. If you can't afford a campaign contribution that sign up to "join the team" and see what he has to offer. You will find a Democratic candidate who will do this nation proud and you may find Eric Schneiderman to be worth writing about yourself. Considering what is at stake here, you might even find the time to do some phone banking for Eric Schneiderman.