Is New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the One to Finally Fight Big Money's Power in Politics?
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This story was originally published at Salon.
The man New Yorkers elected as their latest Sheriff of Wall Street seems so much smaller than one expects a man in such an outsize job to be, sitting behind his huge desk flanked by a potted rubber plant on one side and the state flag on the other. Behind him, the behemoth black iron shell of the Freedom Tower -- Manhattan real estate's rough, unfinished rebuke to terrorists -- hogs the sky and blocks out the sunset.
Low-key and boyish-looking at 55, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is the American progressive movement's best and probably last hope for some kind of public retribution against the banksters, some righting of wrongs -- rolling of heads -- as far as the Great Recession. Yet, he is the anti-Spitzer, in style, if not substance. He has none of Eliot's dominating physicality, none of the hawk-eyed vigor of the man striding around town with everyone's high hopes riding on his shoulders, until he fell, quite literally, on his own figurative sword. This reasonable character could not, one hopes, turn out to be Client 10.
Schneiderman, like Obama, comes from the low-drama school of political presentation. He doesn't get red-in-the-face mad. He doesn't seduce. He's earnest and self-effacing and pedagogical. But unlike the president, he has a steady refusal to back down and a ready willingness to fight. He is the antihero that boiling mad progressives hope can manacle and perp-walk those responsible for the financial crisis.
Schneiderman may not disappoint. In an interview with Salon in his office, Schneiderman refused to get specific about criminal or civil, jail time or fines. But he made clear that he has committed time and staff to an investigation with goals that go well beyond extracting $20 billion in exchange for release from prosecution, the deal that his fellow state attorneys general have tossed onto the table down in Washington, and which the Obama administration would like to see him sign.
"The people who caused this crash have to be held accountable and I don't detect any diminution in the desire of the people of New York for that basic kind of justice to be done," he said. "Part of this [investigation] is to air this out and expose it so we can make sure it never happens again."
What everyone wants to know, of course, is can he play to win in the contact sport of Wall Street litigation? If, as he says, his time in the New York Assembly taught him that politics was "a contact sport," it was football. The Wall Street game is more extreme, Thai boxing, maybe. I asked him if he thought he had what it might take -- the starch, the fight and the clean trou with which to wade into battle. I asked, or rather told him, his fight was "dangerous."
"Well, we'll find out, won't we?" he shrugged.
As if responding on cue to that taunt, the New York Post reported two days later that one of Schneiderman's staff attorneys had been moonlighting as a dominatrix for hire under the name Alisha Sparks. In her day job, she had negotiated deals with errant bankers, by night she was allegedly taking money to whip submissive men into states of bliss. Schneiderman promptly put her on unpaid leave on the basis of the charge that she had broken the rule against outside employment. His press secretary assured me that Sparks hadn't come anywhere near the current ongoing investigation. But financial bloggers immediately smelled a rat and suggested the outing was just the beginning of a coordinated dirty war on Schneiderman's office as he turns up the heat with bank subpoenas.