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Politics & Government

New York Politics After Schneiderman


Eric Schneiderman resigned as attorney general of New York this week after a New Yorker report accused him of hitting and choking women. He joins a list of prominent elected New York politicians who've resigned in disgrace and often been indicted - more than 30 in the past decade. Eliot Spitzer, the former governor and attorney general; David Paterson, the governor who succeeded him; Alan Hevesi, the state comptroller; Sheldon Silver, leader of the state assembly; Anthony Weiner, the congressman and state senators and assembly women and men. Liz Benjamin, the host of "Capital Tonight" on Spectrum News, joins us from Albany. Liz, thanks so much for being with us.

LIZ BENJAMIN: I'm embarrassed, but thank you.

SIMON: Well, I'm embarrassed, being from Illinois, that our numbers aren't keeping pace. What's in the water there?

BENJAMIN: You know, the thing is the culture, I think, of politics writ large. But certainly, the political culture in New York has been a cesspool for a really long time.

SIMON: Yeah. Now, the more than 30 politicians we mentioned who either were indicted or resigned in disgrace - there are several Republicans but mostly Democrats. Is that just because New York is so Democratic?

BENJAMIN: That's what I would say. I think that's just a percentages issue. We are a Democrat-dominated state, I think that the enrollment numbers are 5 to 3 statewide. And so you have a preponderance of elected officials who are Democrats, also New York City Democrats. So you can't just say, oh, well New York City Democrats are corrupt and have vice issues. We have seen Republicans who have gone away and who have been forced from office. Most notable is the former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. He was twice tried, and he actually beat the rap. But he had to give up his office in the process. That was corruption of a financial variety.

SIMON: An outsider might notice this - at least among these names - Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, Eric Schneiderman. These are all liberal reformers.

BENJAMIN: I would like to note they're all liberal reformers. And I think in some ways, the hypocrisy is what did them in in the long term. Certainly, they were accused of wrongdoing and found guilty, though not Eric Schneiderman yet of wrongdoing. But it was the standing on high and pointing down at other people and castigating them for doing bad things and then turning around and, behind closed doors, engaging in that same sort of behavior that one publicly was chastising other people for engaging in. It's that sort of hypocrisy that I think really, in the end, fells a person so quickly.

SIMON: Why haven't Republicans been able to make a more effective campaign issue of corruption and other various charges?

BENJAMIN: Yeah, that's a good question. I think that they have tried. Certainly, we will see what happens with the attorney general's race now that it's an open seat. They've not yet been able to - in the governor's case, specifically - connect him directly to corruption, though the governor's former top aide, a man to whom he referred at one point during his father's eulogy, actually, as a brother - he was found guilty of corruption. And yet try as the Republicans might, they have not yet managed to tie the governor closely enough to that such that voters see him as culpable.

SIMON: Anything else we should know as outsiders?

BENJAMIN: I would just say, certainly, it doesn't look good. And I saw a headline about New York being, you know, the toxic political capital of the nation or some such. And perhaps it's looking in that way. I don't mean to sound Pollyannaish, but there are people doing good things with good intentions. And certainly, not everyone is engaged in abhorrent private behavior.

SIMON: Liz Benjamin, host of "Capital Tonight" on Spectrum News, thanks so much for being with us.

BENJAMIN: Thank you, Scott. A pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEATS AND PIECES BIG BAND SONG, "TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.