WXXI AM News

Legislature not quite ready to vote on AG successor

May 17, 2018

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, right, listens to miSci museum President Gina Gould in Schenectady on Thursday. Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara is to the left of Heastie.
Credit Karen DeWitt

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he still needs to consult with the other legislative leaders before he can set a date to vote on a replacement for former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to serve out the remainder of the term, which ends Dec. 31.

Heastie was noncommittal about when the Legislature will appoint a successor to Schneiderman.

“When we come back on Tuesday, we’ll talk to the members and see what they want to do,” Heastie said.

Schneiderman resigned May 8 over allegations reported in the New Yorker magazine that he physically abused several women he dated. Schneiderman denies the accusations, saying he was engaging in consensual role-playing with the women.

Heastie spoke before an upstate tour that began at the miSci Museum in Schenectady. He said he’ll follow the lead of his rank-and-file Democratic members on the timing of the vote.

“There’s no final determination,” Heastie said.

Other sources said a vote is likely on Tuesday. The party nominating conventions for statewide offices, including attorney general, begin that night.

The favored candidate for the post, acting Attorney General and former state Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, has said she does not want to campaign for the office. Underwood, who was interviewed by lawmakers earlier in the week, along with 11 other candidates, said she would be happy to serve out the remainder of the current term and let others run for election in November for the term that begins Jan. 1.

“I intend to continue the work that the office has been doing,” Underwood said.

Under Schneiderman, the attorney general’s office held national prominence with more than 100 legal actions filed against President Donald Trump and his administration.

Republicans who lead the state Senate favor Underwood, as does Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who appointed Underwood as solicitor general when Cuomo was himself the attorney general in 2007. They say Underwood is well-positioned to run the office and will minimize any potential political conflicts since she would not campaign before the voters for the seat.

But Democrats in the Assembly have the largest number of members in the Legislature, and so could sway the vote to a candidate they favor. Heastie has not indicated who he backs.

Assembly Codes Committee Chair Joe Lentol, who led the interviews for the post, said Underwood is qualified for the post, but nothing is predetermined.

“We are completely unbowed by any pressure,” Lentol said on May 15.

Even if Underwood is not picked, the Legislature’s choice to run the attorney general’s office may not be in the post after the end of the year anyway.

That’s because the likely front-runners to win election have not applied for the legislative appointments. They include New York City Public Advocate Tish James, who announced her candidacy Wednesday, Hudson Valley Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, and former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has not ruled out a run.