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OpinionEditorial

Voters should choose Schneiderman’s replacement

There’s enough time for each candidate clamoring for the job to detail how he or she would promote public safety, defend our civil rights, preserve our natural resources and protect us from consumer fraud.

Eric T. Schneiderman, then the state attorney general,

Eric T. Schneiderman, then the state attorney general, at an immigration rally in Brooklyn in January. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

Eric T. Schneiderman stands accused of abusing his power, both as the state’s top law enforcement official as well as by assaulting women in his personal relationships. The best that can be said about the stunning revelations is that just hours after The New Yorker magazine published them Monday evening, Schneiderman resigned, sparing the state any more of his hypocritical behavior.

And now the state should be spared the arrogance of the State Legislature, which is maneuvering behind closed doors to appoint a successor based on political calculations rather than qualifications.

Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who has more prosecutorial and courtroom experience than the past three state attorneys general combined, should run the office until voters make a choice in November. Democrats, who hold the majority in the combined legislative chambers, want to select a party favorite who can give them an edge in the general election. To make a political choice rather than one based on merit would be yet another insult by Albany to the democratic process.

In response to the detailed accusations in The New Yorker story, Schneiderman denied physically abusing four female accusers. He dismissed their claims of choking and bruising blows to their faces as mere “role-playing” in intimate relationships, and said he never had “non-consensual” sex. His behavior, including claims he would use his powerful office to wiretap and have his girlfriends followed, belies his preening as a principled defender of women, from his boasts about working in an abortion clinic to filing civil charges against Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood mogul accused of serial molestation. Schneiderman used the #MeToo movement as a sword to protect women from sexual harassment. Instead, the women empowered by the movement used it to cut him down. Once again, the allegations are not about sex, but about using power to dominate in a relationship.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made the right move in appointing Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas to probe the accusations against Schneiderman. That should pre-empt jurisdiction under Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who is being investigated by the state attorney general’s office for failing to act on claims against Weinstein. Prosecutors often make cases against prominent people to send a message that no one is above the law. Schneiderman should not be spared that intensity.

Schneiderman was seeking election to a third term his fall, pretty much on an anti-Donald Trump platform. He developed a national reputation taking on the Trump administration on climate change, net neutrality and travel bans. Those are serious issues Underwood and the experienced prosecutors in her office can continue, preferably without showboating.

This editorial page did not endorse Schneiderman in 2010 nor 2014. His policy agenda, while never clearly defined, always seemed overshadowed by his personal ambitions and political calculations. There are six months before we elect a new attorney general. That’s enough time for each candidate for the job to say how he or she would promote public safety, defend civil rights, preserve our natural resources and protect us from consumer fraud. To do that means respecting the law, not abusing it.— The editorial board

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