After Abuse Allegations, New York Appoints a New Attorney General. For the First Time, It's a Woman.
By Kenneth Lovett and Glenn Blain
Acting state Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who took over after Eric Schneiderman resigned in disgrace, will remain in the job for the rest of the year.
The Legislature in a special joint session on Tuesday voted 190 to 1 to appoint Underwood New York's 66th attorney general to fill out Schneiderman's term.
She is the first woman to serve in the role. "Not only are we breaking a glass ceiling, but we are setting our standards high," said Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
The move came on the eve of the Democratic and Republican state conventions, where each party will consider nominations for attorney general candidates to run for a full four-year term in November.
Underwood had been serving as the state solicitor general before being elevated to the top spot upon Schneiderman's shocking May 7 resignation after a report in The New Yorker alleged he physically abused four women.
"I've served in many roles in government throughout my career, but I believe this job -- at this moment in history -- is the most important job I have ever had," she said in a statement after the vote. "I look forward to continuing to lead our office's work to bring justice to all New Yorkers, without fear or favor."
Underwood has said she will not run for election, a promise that helped sway many lawmakers to keep her in place.
Gov. Cuomo, who as attorney general appointed Underwood solicitor general, had called for her appointment.
"I commend the Legislature for its sound and prudent decision," Cuomo said, calling Underwood "a brilliant legal mind and an extraordinarily qualified attorney."
A panel of Assembly members and senators last week interviewed 12 applicants, including Underwood, but ultimately recommended she stay in the position.
"It just preserves the continuity of the office," said Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat who co-chaired the screening committee.
The lone vote against Underwood came from Brooklyn's Charles Barron, who said he didn't like the way she was chosen.
While praising her credentials, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie acknowledged that had the vacancy occurred in the middle of the term, rather than with just seven months left and the elections looming even sooner, it's possible the Legislature could have gone in a different direction.
Under the state Constitution, it's up to the Legislature to choose the person to fill out the term of the attorney general or controller if there is an opening. The Assembly Democrats, by virtue of their numbers, control the process.
Meanwhile, the Democrats will gather at Hofstra University on Wednesday and Thursday to nominate their slate of candidates. The Republicans will do the same at their convention in New York City.
On the Democratic side, city Public Advocate Letitia James is considered the attorney general front-runner at the convention. But Leecia Eve, a former top aide to Gov. Cuomo and Hillary Clinton, has said she will seek to get on the ballot even if it means gathering petition signatures after the convention.
On the Republican side, Keith Wofford, the co-managing partner of Ropes & Gray's New York City office, formally threw his name in the race on Tuesday.
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