Unknown or Disliked: Eric Schneiderman At Negative Approval Rating in New York

About a month ago, I met an extremely liberal and political couple from upstate New York.  I asked the wife whether she likes New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, expecting to hear something along the lines of “Yeah he’s great” or something like that, the way that traditional partisans act.  I had spent a bit of time at New York City Democratic events, and most people there respect Schneiderman because of his work getting that task force on financial fraud announced.  I thought I’d hear something similar.  Instead she said, “Oh is he the guy who is sending my husband scary letters about his nonprofit?”

 Schneiderman it turns out is involved in a jurisdictional dispute with Governor Andrew Cuomo over law enforcement around nonprofits, and is sending out what were probably innocuous but scary sounding letters to people with small nonprofits about governance.  This couple was scared by that letter.  And that’s all they know of Schneiderman.

Eric Schneiderman has a few more years before he’s up for reelection, this is poll from March isn’t that big a deal.  But for a blue state Attorney General in a blue state, this is not good news.

“Both Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Attorney General EricSchneiderman remain a mystery to more than half the voters. DiNapoli has 25-23 percent favorability rating with 52 percent having no opinion, and Schneiderman has a 21-23 percent favorability rating with 55 percent having no opinion,” Greenberg said. “However, when asked how Schneidermanand DiNapoli are doing in their jobs, voters are far more negative. Schneiderman has a negative 30-43 percent job performance rating, and DiNapoli‟s has a negative 26-45 percent rating.”

The bottom line here is that voters don’t know anything about Schneiderman, but when pressed, they aren’t happy with him.  And this isn’t an environmental constraint – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is very popular.  Even the state Assembly and state Senate are more popular than Schneiderman.

Polling isn’t always a meaningful way to think about how a political official is doing, and this polling shows not that New Yorkers are deeply happy or deeply angry with Schneiderman, but that they just don’t know who he is and that because of that he hasn’t met expectations.

 This is a dramatic contrast to the last two AGs – Spitzer, who redefined the office with energy and brilliance, and Cuomo, who used it effectively as a stepping stone to the Governor’s mansion with savvy PR that masked his cover-up of Wall Street criminality.  Those two were more prepared for this office than Schneiderman, so perhaps he’ll learn.  We’ll see.

Schneiderman’s main effort in office has been the mortgage settlement negotiation.  While he’s done some reasonable things on that front, such as his intervention in the Bank of America/Bank of New York settlement, by and large his position at the State of the Union and the financial fraud task force has not panned out.  The tip-off that the financial fraud task force wasn’t going well was that the extremely knowledgeable Congressman Brad Miller was passed over for the coordinating job.  Now it turns out that the task force, after three months, has accomplished the grand feat of posting that job public.

The basic calculation behind the deal was that relationships with the White House were valuable, he could get more resources to go after big banks, and that liberal organizing groups would rejoice.  By one calculation, that seemed like a sweet spot, especially considering the need to support Obama’s reelection in 2012..  Politically, the support of those liberal groups didn’t really help – there was no penetration of the broad mass of the public, as the polling shows.

The legal strategy hasn’t really worked out.  Schneiderman has been in office for more than a year.  There have been no handcuffs or indictments on anyone involved in the financial crisis or the foreclosure crisis.  An attorney general that doesn’t indict or prosecute isn’t worth paying attention to – and so voters aren’t.  Of course, this is just his first year.  He can turn it around.  Bill Clinton, after a disastrous initial Presidency, fired a lot of his staff in the White House and brought in a more seasoned, professional team that righted the ship.

The New York Attorney General office is one of the most powerful offices in the entire country.  Schneiderman is acting like legislator, but the job is more like a cop.  The clients of the New York AG are the people of New York, not Moveon, not Barack Obama, and not Shaun Donovan.  Schneiderman’s first year in office is over, and he has in fact not used power aggressively or creatively.

Is this the kind of Attorney General he will be for the rest of his term?  Is his political team up to the task of building power in a state where Cuomo is ready to knife him at any point?  Are they able to generate the kind of public posture necessary to wage the high profile attacks on financial villains?  Is this legal team adequate?  In April of 2011, Schneiderman’s office issued subpoenas of the Baum law firm, the foreclosure mill later revealed as having employees dress up as homeless people for Halloween.  The US Attorney Preet Bharara cut a deal with this same firm, a fine with no admission of wrongdoing.   Schneiderman’s office recently concluded its actions… with a fine and no admission of wrongdoing.

What would have been useful and dramatic was was handcuffs, what happened was pedestrian.  It’s not, therefore surprising, that New Yorkers don’t know Schneiderman.  Why should they?  How is he relevant to their lives?  Right now, he isn’t.  If he wanted a different posture, he could recruit fearless prosecutors, reorganize his strategy and bring in more talent.  The more likely possibility is continuation on his path, and if that happens, it will gradually become clear that he’s yet another transactional bureaucratic politician.  That would be sad, especially after such a great start.

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About Matt Stoller

From 2011-2012, Matt was a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. He contributed to Politico, Alternet, Salon, The Nation and Reuters, focusing on the intersection of foreclosures, the financial system, and political corruption. In 2012, he starred in “Brand X with Russell Brand” on the FX network, and was a writer and consultant for the show. He has also produced for MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show. From 2009-2010, he worked as Senior Policy Advisor for Congressman Alan Grayson. You can follow him on Twitter at @matthewstoller.


  1. Dan Lynch

    “Bill Clinton, after a disastrous initial Presidency, fired a lot of his staff in the White House and brought in a more seasoned, professional team that righted the ship.”

    And what exactly did Clinton accomplish ? Repeal Glass-Steagall ? Undo the New Deal ? Start a private debt bubble that led to our current depression ?

    But getting back to Schneiderman. He sold out, crossed over to the dark side. He went from being a hero to being a sellout. He’s got nuthin.

    1. Jeanni Schipper

      Any bets he gets a post in Obama’s Justice Department, Term 2?
      Surely Holder’s guaranteed a cushy job somewhere on Wall Street, and his slot will need a replacement. Hmmnn….

    2. Guy_Fawkes

      You forgot….in addition to eliminating Glass Steagall, Clinton also passed that wonderful “job creator” NAFTA…..remember?

      1. Doug Terpstra

        But wait! That’s not all! From Slick Willie—for the same low, low bribe — you also got the Telecom Act, aka Rupert Murdoch Monopoly Act. And for a limited time, while supplies last, lobbyists will pay all your shipping and handling charges.

        According to Common Cause: “…the Telecom Act failed to serve the public and did not deliver on its promise of more competition, more diversity, lower prices, more jobs and a booming economy.

        “Instead, the public got more media concentration, less diversity, and higher prices.

        “Over 10 years … cable rates have surged by about 50 percent, and local phone rates went up more than 20 percent.”

        Gee, now what were the odds of that? Just like SHAFTA, somehow the legislation didn’t quite perform as advertised. I’d buy snake-oil from an infomercial vendor long before touching anything from charalatans like Willie and Obummer.

        1. But Junta!

          But wait! What about his wife, and her little security junta at the state dept, destroying people who dare to think for themselves? Or so I read on the www?

          1. chris

            and who can forget Clinton’s 1994 “Crime Bill” which boosted capital punishment with 60 more ways to impose state-sanctioned murder.

      2. wunsacon

        Bubba’s top(?) 5 economic flubs:

        – CFMA

        – Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 (elim. capital gains on residence — distort investment)

        – Killed Glass-Steagall (simultaneously encouraging TBTF and financial obfuscation)

        – NAFTA (giant sucking sound masked during dot-com fraud)

        – Permanent “most favored nation” status for China

    3. Bob Falfa

      Hey, you’re making the Clinton years sound so bad – don’t forget, he mandated sugary breakfast cereals should be fortified!

    4. Carla

      People in NY state may not know what a sell-out Schneiderman is, but thanks to Naked Capitalism, people all over the country DO know. Thank you, Yves & company.

  2. Walter Wit Man

    Good post. But you seem uncomfortable making the logical next step after you have come to the conclusions you do.

    That’s why I assume you write sentences like this:

    “it will gradually become clear that he’s yet another transactional bureaucratic politician. That would be sad, especially after such a great start.”

    Uh, didn’t you just say his first year was underwhelming? So you must mean the Hope that accompanied his start? But why is that a good thing? That’s simply the set-up? That’s simply the beginning of the swindle.

    Also, another nit to pick. If your friends are extremely liberal I don’t know why you would expect them to support Schneiderman. In fact, the more left the person, the less they would like Schneiderman, I would think.

    It’s long past time to cut Schneiderman and the Democrats loose. They are not simply incompetent nincompoops, they are complicit. Whatever. It doesn’t matter.

    There are no good Democrats. Period. The party is corrupted and one is corrupt if one joins forces with evil. There is no avoiding it.

    1. with us or against us

      Yeah, when ya get promoted from shaved ape and get sworn in as a human being, one of the things you do have to sign up for is the Torture Convention. This is true of everyone. Commit torture, condone torture, acquiesce to torture, and you are, in the technical legal terminology, hostis humani generis, enemy of all mankind. So in what parallel universe could notional “good Democrats” exist in a party whose leader, Barack Obama, openly violated Articles 12 and 16 of The Convention Against Torture?

      1. Walter Wit Man

        It is quite amazing how the left-most Democrats on economic issues, like Schneiderman and Elizabeth Warren, casually support massive war crimes.

        Look what Schneiderman and Warren support: massive secret wars in over 100 countries, drones that kill far more innocent than targets, cluster bombs, assassination lists, obscene rules of engagement that allow for the targeting of civilians, proxy wars, massive media manipulation and propaganda, and legalized torture.

        The Democrats have surpassed even the Nazi party in their extremism!

        Right now, in fact, the Democrats are aiding and abetting a criminal act of aggression against Syria (even down to the level of NGOs like MoveOn and Avaaz possibly supporting terrorism).

        1. tom allen

          But…but…if Obama isn’t re-elected, then Mitt Romney will, uh… he’ll, uh… well, I guess he’ll do exactly the same things. But he’ll be a Republican, you see!

        2. different clue

          The Democrats have surpassed even the Nazi Party in their extremism? Really? Are you sure?

    2. wit us or against us

      But you have to vote Dem! Their war crimes are 2% less inexcusable! And that adds up over time!

  3. Real Time Stoller

    “extremely liberal and political couple”
    “Governor Andrew Cuomo is very popular”

    New Jork is therefore pro waterboard, war on terror and drugs and pro fraudclosure. It’s great the Corporate Democrats get to waft their scent markings to and fro. ‘More bluepoints my fair au pair, I wonder what the po’folk are up to?’

    1. Nathanael

      Andrew Cuomo is an unmitigated disaster; I’m embarassed that he’s still popular.

      He’s sold the people out by cutting a bad backroom deal with the Joe Bruno types to unconstitutionally gerrymander the state; he’s said “frack upstate”, which will literally destroy the water supplies up here; and as for New York City, he’s happy to shred its mass transit system.

      I can’t think of a good thing he’s done besides signing the same-sex marriage bill, but I can think of plenty of evil things he’s done.

      This is unfortunately consistent with his record of bad behavior at HUD earlier in his career. Mario was way better.

  4. jake chase

    Well, it’s no surprise that people don’t approve of Schneiderman, another big mouth empty suit AG in the long line going back to Guiliani, Cuomo, (that guy who bought hookers on his AG credit card, oh yeah, Spitzer). They should get all these guys together and play Send in the Clowns. What is ridiculous is the assumption behind this post that any of these windbags would ever be anything else. When was the last time you saw a CEO perp walk? A banker perp walk? It’s always a poor schmuck like Dennis Levine, who turns over everybody in his rolodex. Somehow this makes a career clown like Guiliani into crusader against white collar crime, a mayor whose principal achievement was collecting the garbage his tax evader predecessor left behind. Then he stands up and makes a speech on the WTC wreckage and becomes a National hero, before sailing off to be a security consultant to Mexico. Good God! Why does anybody even learn the names of these guys? We could abolish the office and at least save their salaries. Who cares about stuff like this?

    1. ScottS

      Have to take exception — Spitzer was not a big mouth empty suit. He got “Spitzered” because he was making banksters uncomfortable — exactly what he should have been doing. I’m not generally one for moral relativism, but straight sex with a consenting adult hardly passes for scandal in political circles.

  5. Conscience of a conservative

    Schneiderman lost some points for not standing firm on the mortgage settlement talks. In my opinion his support was the first domino that brought the other resisting attorney generals in mind.

    As far as the mention of Dinapoli, that’s a huge disappointment. New York lost a huge opportunity in rejecting Harry Wilson who was far more qualified.

  6. Conscience of a Con

    He gave the banksters a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card on tens of thousands of felonies under robosigning. The mode of conduct is generally assumed to be because he’s an upstanding opportunist feeding at the political trough who didn’t want to be Spitzered into some news program by offending the oligarchs. Oh yeah, he shut down some pRon offenders accounts at gambling sites, politically expediente lil’fish.

  7. MIWill

    ” Politically, the support of those liberal groups didn’t really help – there was no penetration of the broad mass of the public, as the polling shows.”

    …penetration…of the public…polling..


    1. tom allen

      I know. And not the good type of penetration and polling either. I mean, no dinner, no lube, no cash for the cab ride back the next morning…. Typical Democrats. :-(

      Vote Green!

  8. Buzz Meeks

    I wrote Schneiderman a positive letter when he first starting bleating about going after the banks. His office emailed back about he is “fighting for us”, that tired old saw that gets trotted out by some ward heeler every election cycle. After his dive I wrote a critical email about the dive. No response. A deafening silence.

    Schneiderman is Scum. I think it must be spontaneous generation.

    Clinton righting the ship? Stoller is correct about the ideological direction only. NAFTA, repeal of Glass-Stegall, etc. Christ.

  9. Aquifer

    Another piece lamenting how disappointing the current batch of Dems are and wouldn’t it be nice if they would just shape up, sigh, sigh – without pointing out the obvious alternatives ….

    You want pols with principles and guts? You won’t find them in these pieces nor by wandering around the rest of the Dem stable – gotta go elsewhere ….


  10. SidFinster

    Even if Schneidermann and Cuomo were serious about reform, watch “Yes, Minister” to see why it might be a bit more complicated than that.

    The Engolish Parliamentary system is different, but the forces at play are similar.

    1. Nathanael

      Cuomo has no excuse. He had the ability, by veto, to force redistricting to go to the courts, and the courts would have drawn decent districts. And those districts would have elected people who would have given him more power.

      Cuomo chose to kowtow to Skelos and Silver for no politically sound reason. Apparently he doesn’t actually understand POWER politics.

  11. Lavrentij "Anarchy99" Lemko

    Dear Atty Gen Schneiderman,

    The partners at Covington and Burling LLP cordially invite you to schmooze with …

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