"Transformational politics is the work we do today to ensure that the deal we can get on gun control or immigration reform in a year—or five years, or twenty years—will be better than the deal we can get today. Transformational politics requires us to challenge the way people think about issues, opening their minds to better possibilities."
These were the words then New York State Senator Eric Schneiderman wrote in a Nation article in 2008. He's now running for state attorney general.
Over the years, Schneiderman's commitment to transformational politics and progressive values have been tested, and he has proven that he is a steadfast champion of causes because they are right, not because they are popular or politically expedient.
Schneiderman is a leader on progressive justice issues in the state and also on a national level. He has a lifelong record of fighting for social justice, economic fairness and women’s rights, and an abiding commitment to a cleaner and more ethical government.
In working with Schneiderman over the years, I’ve come to respect his tireless dedication to improving the conditions of all New Yorkers' lives. We've had intense discussions about progressive politics, and he always shares his hopes as well as deep concerns—whether it's a failure by progressives to challenge and change the prevailing misinformed economic debate, or his anger over corruption in Albany. He's also well-versed on national issues and understands the role New York plays in the national landscape—one it has played for decades—as a laboratory for democracy.
That was certainly the case with the overhaul of the draconian Rockefeller-era drug laws—one of the most critical issues New York has faced in recent decades. Schneiderman was the prime sponsor and a key leader in passing this historic legislation. It repealed harsh mandatory minimum sentences—which disproportionately affect African-Americans and Latinos—with no judicial discretion for the sale or possession of relatively small amounts of drugs.
In contrast, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice—one of Schneiderman’s opponents in the Democratic primary—claims she was a strong supporter of the repeal but actually wrote a letter to her Republican Senator opposing it as "ill-conceived." She particularly took issue with giving judges the authority to place people in drug treatment programs rather than prison.
Schneiderman’s advocacy for a smart and fair administration of justice—and his keen understanding that regressive drug laws have failed New York and the nation—is closely attuned to the times and the pressing need for serious judicial reform. It’s an issue that is also being pressed by Senator Jim Webb and others at the federal level. Schneiderman is dedicated to protecting voting rights, having introduced legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering. As a result, incarcerated peoples will now be counted as residents of their home addresses, rather than their prison address, for the purposes of drawing district lines. As the New York Times wrote in an editorial, "The new law deserves to be emulated all across the country."
Finally, at a time when corruption stalks Albany, Schneiderman offers a long history of fighting for a cleaner, more transparent state government. In fact, he wrote and sponsored the most sweeping ethics reform legislation to pass the legislature in a generation. And despite opposition from his party’s leadership, he also led the effort to remove a state senator convicted of a domestic violence crime—the first state legislator to get the boot in ninety years.
In endorsing Schneiderman, the New York Times editorial board described his work fighting corruption this way: "Thanks to him, New York now has laws that will make it easier to prosecute fraud in government contracts…. Other efforts—promoting transparency in Albany and curbing the power of dirty money—have been blocked by political leaders eager to protect the sleazy status quo. His willingness to keep pushing is crucial."
While there are other worthy candidates in this race, it is Schneiderman who is best poised to be a truly great attorney general. He has shown character, integrity and the ability to take on major national issues and put his own stamp on them. His independence and gutsiness, and unwavering commitment to ensuring equal justice for all New Yorkers, will serve the Office of the Attorney General well.
In these times when political expedience too often trumps conviction, we need Schneiderman’s "transformational politics." He is someone who will not try to win by changing his positions or rhetoric to move toward the voters, or base his positions on the latest polls. He wins by moving the voters closer to him, and setting a course toward a better future and better possibilities for the citizens of New York and this nation.