Taking a stand with the women who have publicly accused outgoing Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of physical assaulting them, Queens lawmakers said on Tuesday that his swift departure from office was the only way to move forward.
Congresswoman Grace Meng, who was one of the first Queens officials to speak out about the situation, said that Schneiderman’s resignation “was the right decision to make,” calling the allegations against him “deeply disturbing and shocking.”
The New Yorker published a story on Monday night in which two women formerly associated with Schneiderman spoke on the record about the abuse. Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam claimed that the attorney general “repeatedly hit them, often after drinking, frequently in bed and never with their consent,” according to the report.
“This kind of conduct is abhorrent and has no place in our society,” Meng said in a May 7 statement. “The brave women who revealed this abusive behavior are to be commended for speaking out. They refused to stay silent, and I applaud them for having the courage to come forward.”
Initially, Schneiderman — publicly a staunch advocate of women’s rights during his tenure — denied in a tweet that he ever assaulted anyone, claiming that he had “in the privacy of intimate relationships … engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity.”
The report, however, spurred bipartisan calls for his immediate resignation from office — including one from Governor Andrew Cuomo, whom Schneiderman replaced as attorney general in 2011.
Just before 10 p.m. on May 7, Schneiderman announced he would resign his office effective at the close of business on May 8.
“In the last several hours, serious allegations, which I strongly contest, have been made against me,” he stated. “While these allegations are unrelated to my professional conduct or the operations of the office, they will effectively prevent me from leading the office’s work at this critical time.”
On Tuesday, several other Queens elected officials said they believed Schneiderman’s accusers and felt that, in Assemblywoman Nily Rozic’s words, quitting the office was the “only option” Schneiderman had.
“Given the recent allegations of assault by four women, the resignation of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was the only option moving forward,” Rozic said. “It is imperative that the reports of these courageous women are taken seriously and that investigations continue. New York women deserve an Attorney General who champions their rights both publicly and privately and we should continue advocating and pursuing a more just New York.”
State Senator Joe Addabbo also issued a statement supporting Schneiderman’s accusers: “I applaud the brave women for coming forward with their stories because these actions are not tolerable from a public servant. I always believed elected officials should be held to a higher ethical standard.”
Queens’ newest elected official — Assemblywoman Ari Espinal, who won in April a special election for the seat formerly held by current Councilman Francisco Moya — said that there must be “no doubt that any man who abuses, harasses or assaults women should not be representing our state.”
“In this era of #MeToo, it takes immense courage to speak up about something so personal and traumatic,” Espinal said. “I stand completely with these women and support them in their fight for justice. As a state and country, we must do more to empower all victims of abuse to come forward so that we can hold perpetrators accountable and break the cycle of violence.”
Schneiderman had been slated to run for a third term later this year. Under the State Constitution, the State Legislature has the authority to fill the vacancy until voters elect a new attorney general later this year.
In the meantime, Schneiderman announced that Solicitor General Barbara Underwood would serve as acting attorney general once his resignation takes effect. The New York Daily News reported that Underwood previously worked for the Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan District Attorneys’ offices.
In a statement, the NYPD indicated that it currently “has no complaints on file” about the alleged abuse. “If the NYPD receives complaints of a crime, it will investigate them thoroughly,” according to NYPD spokesperson Sgt. Brendan Ryan.
On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas as special prosecutor to investigate the allegations against Schneiderman.
This story was updated on May 9 at 11:10 a.m.