Women leaders and advocates react to Schneiderman allegations

The New York State Senate Women’s Caucus

In a shocking turn of events, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a self-proclaimed champion of the #MeToo movement has been accused of severe sexual violence against four women.  

Women across the state who are involved in New York politics are speaking out in response to these allegations, expressing their disgust, disappointment and a call to action for the prosecution of Schneiderman.

“As women lawmakers, we were horrified by the revelations regarding Eric Schneiderman’s abuse of women,” said a statement by the Senate Republican Women’s Caucus. “The former Attorney General launched his initial campaign for statewide office after taking down Hiram Monserrate and has repeatedly portrayed himself as a supporter of the #MeToo movement and a champion of women. This was a lie — he was a fraud and a hypocrite.”

The caucus then declared that Schneiderman should be prosecuted, and that the “roughly” $8.5 million in his campaign account ought to be donated to programs that help victims of domestic violence. The caucus also feels that anyone who has been a recipient of his “campaign funds should donate those monies to domestic violence causes so that some good may come from these abhorrent and indefensible acts.”

Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, R-Staten Island, who intends to introduce new legislation this session that would give the power of electing a new Attorney General to the people of New York during November elections, agrees with the Senate Republican Women’s Caucus. 

“I agree with the Senate Republican Women’s Caucus that Schneiderman should donate all of his campaign funds to women’s causes,” she said. “Although that would not at all compensate for what he’s done, at least there can be some benefit.  What he has allegedly done unfortunately further casts a cloud on Albany. Although these crimes don’t directly relate to his office, what is usually the case, these are offenses nonetheless, and ought to be fully investigated and handled.”

The New Yorker was the first to break the story, with specific anecdotes by Schneiderman’s alleged victims detailing the physical abuse, violent threats and sexual coercion they had experienced. Two of the four women did not wish to have their names on the record, but Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam were named in the article. Three hours after the publication of the article and a tweet by Gov. Andrew Cuomo telling Schneiderman to resign, the former attorney released a statement denying the allegations while simultaneously announcing his resignation effective May 8.

The New York chapter of the National Organization for Women is also calling for an independent investigation to examine of Schneiderman that will audit the allegations made against him to hold him fully accountable to the law. NOW also urges the state Legislature to appoint a champion of women’s rights to the position to replace Schneiderman and to prioritize the consideration of strong women candidates.

“The fact that Eric Schneiderman resigned within hours of the credible allegations against him demonstrates the strength of the public reckoning we are in the midst of – an era of unchecked misogyny is ending,” said Sonia Ossorio, President, National Organization for Women, NY.

“Abusive men like Eric Schneiderman will be held accountable. We owe a debt of gratitude to the courageous women who came forward to expose him.”

New York Attorney Davida S. Perry said she was deeply disturbed by the way Schneiderman used his position of power to silence and frighten his victims. Perry is the co-founder and managing partner of Schwartz Perry & Heller LLP, a boutique law firm focusing on representing individuals in all areas of employment law, including discrimination and sexual harassment cases.

“I am very passionate about helping those who are afraid of coming forward about threats of physical harm they have received by men in power, these women will often stay silent for a very long time,” Perry said. “I’ve seen women who were fired for coming forward or demoted with a salary cut.”

Perry said she believes it is important that a woman replaces Schneiderman in order to give women their voice back and keep the conversation about sexual harassment and abuse where it needs to be.

Sen. Liz Krueger called the allegations made against Schneiderman “extremely serious.” As a longtime colleague of Schneiderman, Krueger said she was deeply disturbed to learn about this alleged conduct.

“It is vital that a thorough and independent investigation take place,” Krueger said. “In the meantime, I believe it is appropriate that Attorney General Schneiderman is stepping down — to remain the state’s top law enforcement official while under the cloud of credible and corroborated allegations like these would be a disservice to the people of New York and call into question the integrity of the office.”

The Legislature has yet to appoint a replacement for Schneiderman. Barbara Underwood, the current State Solicitor General, will take up the role of acting attorney general until the Legislature appoints a standing attorney general to hold the office until November’s elections.

Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood