What a difference half a day can make.
As late as last evening, counsel for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. were continuing their public feud over Cuomo’s decision to pull the Manhattan DA’s Office off of the Eric Schneiderman investigation in favor of Nassau DA Madeline Singas as a special prosecutor.
But all that appeared to be buried hatchets Thursday afternoon. Vance, Cuomo, Singas and Suffolk County DA Tim Sini shared a table in the governor’s midtown Manhattan office to deliver a unified message that investigations of accusations raised in The New Yorker article that Schneiderman—the former New York attorney general who resigned Monday night—was violent against former girlfriends was proceeding without conflict.
Or, as Cuomo noted, the perception of conflict, since that was the point of conflict both he and Vance clearly wanted to dispel. As some online observers noted, the tit-and-tat back-and-forth between the Manhattan DA and Cuomo’s office had some disturbing overtones.
The visuals clearly were unflattering: a statewide elected official must resign in short order over gruesome accusations of violence against intimate female partners, and two other powerful male elected officials were debating if a well-regarded female prosecutor should be empowered to take over in the face of potential conflict.
“The men who run New York are making the question of who gets the high-profile job of investigating Eric Schneiderman into a political football,” one Twitter user noted.
This perception—as much as the perception of conflict at the heart of the war of words between Cuomo’s office and Vance—appeared as much as a motive for the press conference as any other.
“I think the governor’s office and our office were not in communication as carefully during this period as perhaps we could have been,” Vance said.
Vance acknowledged he was “a little frustrated” when “the ground rules” over a case that would normally be in his jurisdiction “changed.”
“But that being said, I completely understand the governor’s decision, and the public deserves to have confidence that there is no conflict involved in our offices representation,” Vance said, noting an “inquiry” from the AG’s Office—at Cuomo’s direction—was going on into the Manhattan DA’s Office.
“As a result, I believe the best end result here is for Madeline to investigate these things in Manhattan,” he said.
That inquiry was the core of the other set of perception concerns that Cuomo said were entirely what drove his decision-making around appointing Singas in the first place.
“Cy Vance has done a magnificent job. I have total confidence in him and in the office,” Cuomo said. “But in some ways it doesn’t matter what I think.”
While Cuomo dealt fulsome if vague praise to Vance, his disclaimer allowed him to remain in line with his counsel, Alphonso David, who late Wednesday said it was Vance’s “original actions and omissions” in the handling of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein in 2015 that brought him the distrust of some.
“That distrust is your creation, not ours,” David wrote.
But on Thursday, the blame game had shifted to a higher order of concern about public perception that Cuomo reiterated as the need to remove Vance from at least part of the equation. The dynamic of Vance investigating Schneiderman and potentially the AG’s Office itself, which Cuomo had previously asked to investigate Vance over the Weinstein matter, would lead to “a hyper-complicated situation … prone to create a perception of a conflict,” Cuomo said.
“It’s the public confidence in this specific situation, and avoiding even the appearance of a perception issue,” Cuomo said.
For her part, Singas said she’s spent the bulk of her career working on domestic violence and sexual assault cases. That wealth of experience would be deployed in Schneiderman’s case the same way it has been in any other case, she said. A team has already been assembled in her Nassau office, which collectively has over 125 years of experience in similar matters.
“We will do this investigation fairly, and thoroughly,” she said.