Lawmakers pick successor to disgraced attorney general
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The New York Legislature on Tuesday appointed Barbara Underwood interim attorney general two weeks after Eric Schneiderman suddenly resigned as the state’s top legal chief amid allegations he physically abused four women he dated.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced that 190 lawmakers voted for Underwood out of the 213-seat joint session of the Democrat-controlled Assembly and Republican-led Senate. Under state law, the full Legislature is required to vote on the attorney general’s replacement should the job become vacant.
Schneiderman officially resigned two weeks ago after The New Yorker magazine reported he physically and verbally abused four women he had dated. He has denied the allegations.
Underwood, the state’s solicitor general, was the front-runner among applicants hoping to serve out Schneiderman’s second term through Dec. 31. She was the Legislature’s clear choice a week after she led off a roster of 12 prospective candidates who were interviewed by a bipartisan committee of lawmakers over two days in Albany.
Underwood, 73, moved up to acting attorney general when Schneiderman’s resignation became official at the end of business on May 8. Her decadeslong law career was praised by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle during last week’s public interviews, and several legislators took the opportunity during Tuesday’s 50-minute proceedings to add to the accolades.
“I know we got it right,” Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat, said of Underwood’s selection.
Underwood is the first woman to serve as New York’s attorney general, a position that dates back to the British colonial era. Previous attorneys general have included Aaron Burr, who served before his infamous 1804 duel with Alexander Hamilton; Eliot Spitzer, who later resigned in 2008 as governor amid a prostitution scandal, and Andrew Cuomo, who served one term before being elected governor in 2010.
As attorney general, she’ll spend the next seven-plus months overseeing a Department of Law that employs more than 700 lawyers and another 1,000 support staff. Underwood, a Democrat who has worked in the attorney general’s office since 2007, said during her May 14 interview that she doesn’t intend to run for the job this November, something she repeated Tuesday.
“I told the legislators that I was not seeking elected office nor will I participate in the election process,” Underwood told reporters after spending 15 minutes having her photograph taken with well-wishers in the Assembly chamber.
There are plenty of other Democrats interested in seeking a four-year term as attorney general. In addition to the other 11 applicants interviewed last week, the candidates include New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of the Hudson Valley, and Leecia Eve, a former adviser to fellow Democrats Hillary Clinton and Cuomo, who endorsed James’ campaign Tuesday.
Democrats will nominate their candidate for attorney general at this week’s state convention on Long Island.
Meanwhile, a pair of New York City attorneys, Manny Alicandro and Keith Wofford, will seek the Republican nomination for attorney general at the party’s state convention this week in Manhattan.
Schneiderman’s resignation came a day after The New Yorker reported the allegations of abuse leveled by four women who had dated him in recent years. He was expected to win easily in November in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-to-1, but his hopes for a third term started crumbling when the magazine posted its article online the evening of May 7. He announced his resignation just hours later.
Cuomo has appointed Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas as special prosecutor to investigate the women’s abuse allegations against Schneiderman.