Apr 19th - 9:47 am
AG Eric Schneiderman, who has seen something of a mini-exodus from his office in recent months, is losing another staffer.
James Freedland, Schneiderman’s director of communications and strategic initiatives, is departing to take a job with another former AG staffer, Neal Kwatra, who left his post as Schneiderman’s chief of staff in February to launch his own consulting firm, Metropolitan Public Strategies.
“James Freedland has been one of my key advisers, and has served the people of New York with distinction, integrity and dedication for years,” Schneiderman said in a statement.
“Although James will be missed at the Office of Attorney General, I look forward to continuing to rely on his strategic counsel – as both an adviser and a friend – for many years to come.”
Freedland, 33, is going to be heading up the strategic communications arm for Metropolitan. His last day in the AG’s office is Monday.
Kwatra was replaced as Schneiderman’s chief of staff by Melissa DeRosa, but she was quickly wooed away by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to serve as his communications director, replacing Allison Gollust, who departed after spending just four months on the job.
Both Kwatra and Freedland are expected to maintain their ties to Schneiderman through Metropolitan, which is likely to keep the AG as a client as he gears up for his first re-election campaign in 2014.
Freedland has been overseeing day-to-day operations of the AG’s communications department, while also handling media outreach, strategic initiatives, speechwriting and rapid response.
In 2010, he served as chief spokesman for Schneiderman’s AG campaign, which included a hard-fought five-way primary battle. Freedland also worked in Schneiderman’s Senate office, and prior to that, managed media relations at the ACLU.
Freedland received a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville and a Masters in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Apr 18th - 2:01 pm
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in an interview this afternoon that expanding the jurisdiction of his office to go after public corruption would “put another cop on the beat”
Schneiderman told Susan Arbetter on The Capitol Pressroom that the measures proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to strengthen anti-bribery laws would add to his ability and other prosecutors around the state to go after corrupt activities.
“I do support the bills that were introduced last week that would make it easier to prosecutre bribery — that benefits my office and all other prosecutors in the state,” Schneiderman said.
But the attorney general added that in addition to expanding his office’s power, redesigning the whole electoral system through independent redistricting in order to promote competition is just as important.
“The debate is just on now for the next round of reforms and I think it’s important to understand that one aspect of that is strengthening our ability to fight corruption, strenghtnening the hand of prosecutors like my office,” Schneiderman said. “The other though is cleaning up the election system. The system is deisgned so the major check on bad action by elected officials is that they have to stand before the voters with an opponent with an incentive and the ability to challenge them and bring scrutiny to their activities.”
“We don’t have many competitive elections,” he added.
Cuomo has proposed the creation of a new Board of Elections enforcement counsel who would oversee election law and campaign finance violations. Cuomo, who previously supported giving the attorney general’s office this power, would nominate the counsel, who would then be subject to Senate confirmation.
Cuomo this week painted that proposal as one that keeps the enforcement officer shielded from politics. The governor said the attorney general’s office would be a “fallback” if the counsel post isn’t approved.
Apr 11th - 1:14 pm
ICYMI: This was today’s morning memo…
Back when Andrew Cuomo was state attorney general, he issued a scathing report on the so-called Troopergate scandal, condemning then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s botched use of the State Police to smear his political rival, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.
The scandal dragged on for months (actually, it outlived the tenures of both Spitzer and Bruno), with the Senate Republicans milking every last drop of publicity possible from the mess.
Part of the GOP’s strategy to extend Troopergate was a series of hearings convened by now former Sen. George Winner. At one of these little get-togethers, a trio of top Cuomo aides appeared to testify, making a plea for more power in the AG’s office to prosecute public corruption cases.
“If we had subpoena power, this investigation would be over,” Cuomo’s former chief of staff, Steve Cohen, told the senators, noting the AG’s office does have that ability in some cases – environmental cases, Medicaid fraud cases, securities cases (via the Martin Act, which was used to the fullest extent by Cuomo’s predecessor, Spitzer) – but not when it comes to public integrity.
“This is one of those problems that the more you look at it the more you realize that this is a glaring hole in our arsenal, and the more you realize that, unlike in most cases, the fix is not that complicated,” Cohen continued.
“…What you really want is to have one regulatory body, or more, but at least one, that has the ability to pursue cases wherever they think it’s necessary. It would seem to me that the appropriate place to vest that power…is in the statewide attorney general’s office.”
That was then.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that the biggest corruption-busting case brought by Cuomo while he was AG felled former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi. When it comes to putting away crooked state lawmakers, the prize goes to US Attorney Preet Bharara.
Fast forward to 2011, when Cuomo has become governor and former Sen. Eric Schneiderman – a man widely known not to be Cuomo’s first choice as a successor – had won a crowded and hard-fought primary and general election to make it to the AG’s office.
Schneiderman told the TU he had unsuccessfully raised the issue of a so-called “blanket referral” from the governor’s office via an executive order that would enable him to investigate public corruption cases.
Apr 9th - 3:36 pm
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman gave the thumbs up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s anti-corruption package introduced today, calling the bills a “step forward” in fighting public wrongdoing and fraud.
“New Yorkers rightly expect their government to work for them. The time has come to end the parade of scandals that has have given voters the sense that the system is rigged. Building on legislation I proposed as a lawmaker, these changes are a step forward that will toughen our state’s public corruption laws and help give New Yorkers the government they deserve. We need to end this culture of corruption, and restore confidence that our elected representatives work for all the people of this state.”
Cuomo today announced a trio of bills aimed at strengthening bribery laws, expanding anti-fraud provisions and requiring public officials to report corruption.
Then-state Sen. Eric Schneiderman in 2010 introduced similar legislation that was backed by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, incudling the fraud prevention measure and the enhancement of the anti-bribery statute, though the new proposal goes farther to enhance penalties.
Cuomo, who held Schneiderman’s job from 2007 through 2011, said today the anti-corruption legislation was a first step and that a broader reform package was on the way.
Absent from the announcement today was any plans to enhance the attorney general’s office to investigate public corruption, though Cuomo has proposed expanding the office’s investigative powers both as AG and as a candidate for governor for campaign finance violations as well as member item abuse.
Cuomo said giving Schneiderman a broader role in corruption cases was under consideration and that the attorney general could be be “helpful” when it comes to issues like campaign finance violations.
Mar 27th - 4:09 pm
Keeping the federal Defense of Marriage Act in place would continue to restrict the rights of same-sex marriage couples in New York, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in an interview on Capital Tonight.
The legal challenge to DOMA — with arguments heard today at the U.S. Supreme Court — comes from New York woman Edith Windsor who owes taxes on her spouse’s estate that she otherwise wouldn’t have to pay if their marriage was recognized by the federal government.
Schneiderman’s office crafted an amicus brief this month seeking to overturn DOMA, one of two legal challenges to same-sex marriage rights being heard by the court this term.
“This is not just discrimination against individuals,” Schneiderman said in the interview. “This is discrimination against the state of New York. This is discrimination against our ability against our marriage laws frome treated equally and fairly.”
New York, of course, has had a same-sex marriage law in place since July 2011, but the Defense of Marriage Act, signed in 1996, does not extend federal benefits to married gay couples.
Schneiderman says the sea change he’s witnessed over the LGBT rights debate in the last decade is dramatic. The AG, a former state senator, remembered the hostile debate in the chamber back in 2002 over the SONDA bill.
The tone and rhetoric from the opposition has changed, he said.
“The arguments have shifted so dramatically there was not one mention of religion,” Schneiderman said. ”No one is trying to argue the merits based on anyone’s religion.”
He credited advocacy groups for pushing the issue into the public arena and presenting the argument. Indeed, it’s been the public that has come around same-sex marriage, forcing politicians to do the same, he said.
“It reflects how fast public consciousness and public awareness is changing on this issue. and you have to give credit to folks in the marriage equality movement. The people who are moving this along. The trajectory towards American justice is always towards equality and inclusion. How fast that motion takes place really depends upon the activists. I think the folks in the marriage equality movement have had a big influence on this. The trajectory since we took on into New York state in 2002 has really taken off.”
Mar 25th - 1:46 pm
An excerpt from today’s Morning Memo:
Ultimately, it will fall to the state’s legal defender – Attorney General Eric Schneiderman – to defend the SAFE Act in court.
That’s ironic, since Schneiderman is a long-time gun control advocate who championed a microstamping bill while serving in the state Senate and was a founding member in 2009 of state Legislators Against Illegal Guns – an offshoot of Mayor Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns group.
But as AG, Schneiderman has also managed to work collaboratively with gun show operators, announcing earlier this month that 23 of them across the state had signed on to model procedures to close the so-called gun show loophole and ensure background checks are performed on all private firearms sales.
I caught up with Schneiderman at Somos el Futuro this weekend. (He sponsored a pre-gala reception along with state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli). I was curious whether the imminent modifications to the SAFE Act will make it more difficult to defend in court, since these changes tacitly acknowledged the original product was flawed and perhaps rushed into place.
His short answer: No.
His long answer:
“We have several different lawsuits challenging the SAFE Act. I’m very confident that we’ll prevail.
I defended New York’s last set of gun laws and our requirement that you have to show special purpose to get a concealed carry permit, which is unusual.
We defended that successfully, we’ll defend this one successfully.
The modifications are really very minor. Nothing have anything to do with the constitutionality. Look, New Yorkers deserve a safe set of procedures to ensure that people who have criminal backgrounds or mental health issues don’t get guns. That we’re not selling guns that are unnecessary for any sporting or target shooting purpose.
The SAFE Act is really the strongest and most comprehensive law in the country and I’m confident that it complies with every constitutional standard.
…process issues don’t effect the constitutionality and legitimacy of a law. There will be some minor modifications, but the law is going to stay 99 percent in tact. We will defend it. New York will be a safer state.”
Schneiderman insisted the SAFE Act is a “good, smart, comprehensive” law that should serve as an impetus to get Congress to act at the federal level to streamline the gun control effort.
He did allow, however, that the rapid passage of the Act had created a sense of “fear” among gun owners that they are under siege and being turned from law abiding members of society into criminal – especially if they refuse, as many have said they will, to register any weapon that is newly classified as illegal.
“That’s not what’s in the law,” Schneiderman said. “There is a little bit of fear and that is one of the problems when you rush something through.”
“It did happen very quickly. But that doesn’t effect the constitutionality and that doesn’t effect the merits. This is a good comprehensive law. We’ll defend it in court. I’m confident we’ll prevail.”
Schneiderman isn’t the only staunch gun control advocate admitting that perhaps Cuomo was a wee bit overzealous in his desire to be the first in the nation after Newtown to further restrict access to firearms.
Last week, Bloomberg – who just today started bankrolling a $12 million national advertising campaign in 13 states that focuses on US senators who he believes might be persuaded to support a pending package of federal regulations to curb gun violence – said complaints that Cuomo rushed the SAFE Act, resulting in a flawed law, are “legitimate.”
“…If they had taken a few more days to read and let some people who might have other information, at least, even if not other ideas, give some input, they could have fixed some of this stuff,” Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show with WOR’s John Gambling.
“And they would say, ‘Look, pass the bill. You can come back and fix it. It may look embarrassing in the paper but so what.’ And there’s something to be said for that. I guess I might have tried to take a few more days, but I certainly shouldn’t second-guess the governor.”
This probably did very little to improve the often rocky relationship with Bloomberg and Cuomo. And an anonymous Cuomo source retaliated at the mayor via Fred Dicker’s column this morning, saying:
“Much of what’s in the law was drafted by people connected to Mayor Bloomberg and the Brady Center, not by the governor’s staff. That’s why there are so many problems with it.”
Another interesting, though only marginally related tidbit from this morning’s headlines: Schneiderman has hired a new chief of staff to replace Neal Kwatra, who departed the public payroll to hang out his own political consulting shingle last month.
Kwatra’s replacement is Micah Lasher, who just so happens to be Bloomberg’s former Albany lobbyist – and someone who clashed frequently with the Cuomo administration, not to mention organized labor.
That’s an interesting choice for the AG, who is loved by labor and viewed as the lefty counterpoint to Cuomo. He’s also often battling behind the scenes with the Cuomo administration, even as he defends its policies – like, say, the SAFE Act – in court.
Mar 13th - 3:52 pm
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a statement this afternoon said a state Supreme Court justice’s ruling correctly tossed an injunction to block the state’s new gun control law.
The court ruling coincided with yet another mass shooting, this time in two Mohawk Valley villages that killed four people and injured two.
Schneiderman, who is defending the state in the legal challenges to the law, said his office will “continue to fervently defend” the measure.
“The court rightfully rejected an attempt to halt the State’s efforts to reduce gun violence and prevent the tragedies that result from the use of military style weapons and high capacity ammunition devices. The SAFE Act is a comprehensive law that enacts significant reforms designed to increase the safety of all New Yorkers, while ensuring constitutional protections to responsible gun owners. There are multiple lawsuits challenging the SAFE Act on numerous grounds, and our office will continue to fervently defend the protections embodied in the law.”
Gun-rights advocates and Republican lawmakers opposed to the law have said challenges to the measure in court are the best avenue to take to overturn it.
Feb 28th - 1:10 pm
A Bronx man has pleaded guilty to charges that he embezzled more than half a million dollars from two taxpayer-funded Bronx charities founded by state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. over an eight-year period, AG Eric Schneiderman announced today.
Clement I. Gardner pleaded guilty to the felony charge of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree. That count alleged he stole approximately $560,000 in public and charitable assets while serving as fiscal officer for two related Bronx not-for-profit corporations: Christian Community Benevolent Association, Inc. and Christian Community in Action.
“The defendant used two publicly funded Bronx organizations like his personal piggy bank, diverting more than a half million dollars earmarked for services for needy New Yorkers in little over eight years,” the AG said. “My office has zero tolerance for those who abuse the public trust for personal gain, and will continue to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”
Between December 31, 2003 and February 12, 2012, Gardner wrote numerous checks to himself from CCBA and CCIA bank accounts and then falsified business records to conceal his crimes, Schneiderman said.
Part of the money was taxpayer-funded member item grants directed to the charities by Diaz Sr., who has not been implicated in this case. He’s not mentioned in Schneiderman’s press release.
Diaz Sr. directed close to $495,000 to CCBA between 2006 and 2007. The Bronx Democrat founded the organization in 1977 in the basement of the Church of God on Seward Avenue, according to his official Senate biography, and served as its executive director until shortly before his election to his current post in 2002.
In exchange for his guilty plea, Gardner will be sentenced on March 20 to two to six years in state prison. At sentencing, acting state Supreme Court Justice Steven Barrett will enter an order of restitution for $560,000.
Gardner was arrested last March. Until then, he served as fiscal officer for both CCBA, which provides recreational and educational opportunities to Bronx children and seniors, and CCIA, which provided home health services to the disabled and elderly.
Gardner managed the finances of both organizations, maintained their expense records, and administered their bank accounts, according to the AG.
Following Gardner’s arrest, Schneiderman’s office said the investigation was ongoing, and Diaz Sr. expressed “shock” that his onetime “close ally“ could have done such a thing. As for any question about whether the senator himself was somehow involved, Diaz Sr. said:
“If I ever lost my salvation, which I doubt it, it would not be for money, because I am in the business of giving, not in the business of taking.”
Feb 26th - 4:13 pm
Have you heard about Price Chopper’s policy of doubling coupons? So has the Attorney General’s office, and it is not impressed.
The OAG has slapped Price Chopper with a $100,000 penalty for what Attorney General Eric Schneiderman calls, “deceptive business practices to mislead price-conscious consumers and extract hard-earned money from them by hindering their ability to shop competitively and save on groceries.”
The coupon policy, which promises the doubling of coupons brought into the store, does not specify that doubling is only eligible for coupons 99 cents and under. According to the Office of the Attorney General this has cost customers millions of dollars in savings, and they have received many complaints from customers.
“In the current economy, it is more important than ever that consumers be presented with clear information about the terms and conditions of coupons and other sale offers,” Schneiderman said in a press release.
Even though Price Chopper agreed to the terms — the penalty, along with a total revamp in future advertising – it was not happy with the release.
“We were appalled and disappointed by the inflammatory press release distributed earlier today by the New York State Office of the Attorney General, as its portrayal of Price Chopper’s conduct is false, misleading and inaccurate in significant respects,” the company said in a release issued soon after.
Price Chopper officials go on to say its Assurance of Discontinuance with the Office of the Attorney General does not mention intent on Price Chopper’s end. Instead, it agrees to the AG’s claim that Price Chopper advertised falsely when it agreed to double coupons for its customers during June 2011, January 2012 and April 2012. Price Chopper also says that its advertising was insufficient in only Cortland and Syracuse, and not at any of the other 77 locations in the state.
Price Chopper also says it has reached out to the Attorney General’s office about the release, but has not heard back yet.
Feb 8th - 10:33 am
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman appeared on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s MSNBC show yesterday afternoon to tout his efforts to have gun show operators ensure background checks are performed.
In the interview, Schneiderman said he will travel to Washington later this month to offer up suggestions to federal officials on how to better enforce gun laws.
As he’s said before, the AG told Sharpton that gun show operators have come forward themselves to offer up better enforcement guidelines following the Connecticut school shooting that killed 20 children and six adults.
“People we haven’t even busted have come forward voluntary to say I want to do that at my gun shows, too. The people of good conscious, who are sportsmen and women who are gun owners they understand this,” Schneiderman said. “They know that background checks keep guns away from criminals and people with mental health problems. What happened in Newtown has galvanized them as well.”
The Democrat also praised New York’s gun control law passed last month in Albany that updates and expands the state’s assualt weapons ban.
Advocates for gun control on the state level have noted that some form of federal tightening of gun laws is needed in order to stem the flow of illegal weapons into the state.
Schneiderman said he expects some form of gun control to pass in Washington, but he said a national “campaign” is needed to ste up the effort.
“The time for change is even coming from Washington,” he said. “You see the president, you see the commitment there, I think they’re going to get something done.”