New York Democrats huddle on Schneiderman replacement

- Mei 10, 2018

New York Democrats huddled with state assembly speaker Carl Heastie on Capitol Hill Thursday as Heastie attempted to push back on reports he’s already lined up his preferred pick for the state’s open attorney general job.

Heastie insisted he is committed to an open process for selecting someone to temporarily fill the role after Eric Schneiderman’s resignation, according to multiple sources in the room. New York’s 213 state legislators are tasked with appointing a new attorney general; Heastie leads a bloc of 104 Democratic votes.

His comments behind closed doors came amid reports that New York City Public Advocate Letitia James has gained the speaker’s favor, in part because of a belief that elevating her would boost Heastie ally Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. in a potential 2021 campaign for New York City mayor — a job both covet.

The New York Post even reported that James had secured the votes, which many operatives and legislators have told POLITICO is not true. Heastie rebuffed this notion in a morning tweet and, members said, in the private meeting.

“He just generally said even though some of the newspapers have been reporting he picked someone, he said it’s not true, they’re still going through a whole process,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said in an interview.


Schneiderman resigned earlier this week after multiple women accused him of physical abuse.

Heastie on Wednesday announced a Democratic-led panel will publicly interview candidates who want to be appointed to the position. He underscored a commitment to letting that process play out in the meeting on Capitol Hill.

He explicitly said notwithstanding public speculation, he has not settled on a candidate [nor] is there any member of the assembly who he has talked to to express a preference,” one source told POLITICO after the meeting.

Three members of the congressional delegation have been floated as potential attorney general candidates when the state holds its election later this year: Democratic Reps. Kathleen Rice, Sean Patrick Maloney and Hakeem Jeffries.

All three members are said to be exploring a bid, according to multiple Democratic sources on the Hill, to varying degrees. Several sources said Rice is widely expected to run while Maloney and Jeffries are less likely. New York’s political nominating conventions are in two weeks, and the electoral process will unfold this summer regardless of who is appointed by the State Legislature.

Rice was not at the Thursday meeting, which included several members of the House delegation as well as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Schumer had already left by the time the confab turned to discussion of the attorney general, according to sources.

Rice also skipped a Wednesday evening fundraiser for the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee, a PAC that boosts state legislative candidates, a source said.


Jeffries and Maloney were both present at Thursday's meeting but neither floated their names as potential candidates. Both men told POLITICO they are looking at a potential run but didn’t commit to anything.

“Obviously the job of New York attorney general is critically important and we’re taking a look at it,” Maloney said in an interview Thursday. “But I haven’t made any decisions.”

Jeffries had a similar response.

“I haven’t ruled anything in, I haven’t ruled anything out,” Jeffries said in an interview Wednesday, noting he’s been tied up trying to push his prison reform bill through the House. Jeffries' bill was approved by a House panel Wednesday and is expected to be on the floor later this month.

Rice did not respond to a request for comment.

Both Jeffries and Maloney are considered rising stars in the Democratic Caucus and would be in line to run for prominent leadership positions if Democrats take back the House in November. A bid for attorney general is a much riskier bet, especially considering state election law is fuzzy about whether a congressional candidate can run for the post this late in the midterm election cycle.

Another thing working against both men: There is strong appetite, particularly in the New York delegation, for the next attorney general to be a woman given the abuse scandal that led to Schneiderman’s downfall after he made himself a very public champion of women’s rights in the era of the #MeToo movement.

“It’s certainly my hope,” Gillibrand said when asked how important having a female fill the role is to her.


Gillibrand has been one of the leading advocates of enacting reforms on Capitol Hill after a string of sexual harassment allegations led to the resignation or retirement of more than half a dozen lawmakers.

“I think it’s critical,” added Rep. Adriano Espaillat, noting he'd like to either see a woman or person of color — or both — in the job. “I’ve always advocated for government to be representative of the people of the state of New York.”


 

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