Public Advocate Letitia James is emerging as the favorite to replace Eric Schneiderman as interim Attorney General, sewing up the support of dozens of legislators for an expected joint vote by the Senate and Assembly.
Top state leaders, however, are cautioning that there’s no hurry to vote.
“This should be an open and deliberative process,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday about James, according to the New York Post. “Let’s see who’s interested. Let’s have a discussion. Let’s have a vetting process, and there’s no great rush to me.”
“It’s not as if there’s a mandate that it be done in 72 hours,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.
James, according to the New York Post, is backed by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx and 80 lawmakers to become the state’s top law enforcement official. In return, she would support Bronx Borough President Rubin Diaz Jr.’s replacing her as public advocate.
But amid talk of a backroom deal, Diaz took his name out of consideration for the city job. “The Borough President is not running for public advocate,” a spokesman said.
Other people who have expressed interest in the state job include Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of Orange County, Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Humbach and Democratic Sen Mike Gianaris.
There have been calls in support of Preet Bharara, a former Manhattan U.S. Attorney who gained a name as a corruption buster before he was fired last year by President Donald Trump. But he said Thursday that he was not interested at the moment, though he left the door wide open for a run in November.
“That’s for another day,” he said on his weekly podcast, “Stay Tuned.” “Like I said, I think politics is not for me, but it’s an important job, it’s an important time, so we’ll see.”
In addition, Barbara Underwood, the state’s solicitor general who was appointed as acting attorney general, told the Daily News on Thursday that she would be “very happy” to hold the job until the end of the year.
Meanwhile, a battle has erupted over who would prosecute Schneiderman. Normally, this would go to the Manhattan district attorney’s office, but District Attorney Cyrus Vance is himself under investigation by Schneiderman’s former office for how he conducted abuse probes in the past.
On Tuesday, Cuomo said he was taking the case away from Vance and was appointing a special prosecutor, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, because “I don’t even want the whiff of the perception of conflict of interest or impropriety.”
Vance strongly objected.
“Charging and jurisdictional decision making should be left to independent prosecutors who are answerable to their local constituents,” Vance wrote in a letter to the governor. “Interference with law enforcement investigations by an elected chief executive should always be viewed with great care.”
The governor’s counsel, Alphonso David, issued a scathing response Wednesday, accusing Vance of a “blatant conflict of interest” and charging that Vance’s office was not trusted by liberal groups. “That distrust is your creation, not ours,” he wrote.
All three — Cuomo, Vance and Singas — held a news conference at Cuomo’s Manhattan office on Thursday. Cuomo withdrew his aide’s criticism of Vance, who in turn expressed his “total confidence” in Signas.
“Perhaps I was a little frustrated when the ground rules changed,” Vance said. “I completely understand the governor’s decision.”