“Who the hell’s idea was it for me to follow Schumer and Cuomo?” grumbled Alec Baldwin last night at the swearing-in ceremony for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “I told them I only agreed to come here if I went first.”
The 30 Rock star was standing at the podium inside the cavernous Great Hall at Shepard Hall on the City College campus, a room that Mark Twain opened 103 years ago. Baldwin had been a surprise star on the dais, sharing the stage and the microphone with Senator Chuck Schumer and the outgoing attorney general, Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Schumer said he expected Schneiderman to join the long line of notable of New York attorneys general. “We have a great tradition in this state–even in the last 50 years–bipartisan: The Javitses and the Lefkowitzes, the Abrams and the Cuomos. It’s a grand tradition,” he said.
Cuomo harkened back to his and Schneiderman’s days together working on Mario Cuomo’s first campaign, and praised the man who he had opposed during the Democratic primary.
“Eric knows the system,” said Cuomo, citing what had once been seen as a liability in Schneiderman’s campaign for statewide office. “He knows the good, he knows the bad, he knows the ugly. He knows the law. He knows quality in selecting people. He knows what’s right, he knows what’s wrong and he’s willing to stand up and fight. And those are the elements of being a great attorney general. And he will be.”
Cuomo also recounted a conversation aboard Air Force One with Bill Clinton, about the president’s time as Arkansas’s AG. “He said the attorney general’s job was the purest form of public service. Those were his words. Now I know very well what he meant. The job of the attorney general is elegant and eloquent in its simplicity,” he said.
Cuomo seemed to be waxing eloquent himself. “It is the romantic version of practicing law,” he said of the AG’s office. “And Eric will do it exquisitely well.”
Once he finally took the podium, Schneiderman thanked Cuomo and called him “the right person to govern the state in a time of crisis.” And added: “I look forward to having him as a client.”
He spoke of his decision to bring in a Chief Operating Officer to do more with the office’s resources, and continued his ongoing infatuation with Charles Hamilton Houston, the former NAACP litigation director who trained Thurgood Marshall. Schneiderman cited Houston–who he has reportedly quizzed incoming attorneys about–as a hero of the struggle for social justice, and a model for planning a long-term legal strategy to effect social change.
But it was, rather predictably, Baldwin who stole the show.
“Three cracker jack attorneys general in a row for the state of New York,” said Baldwin, who was the only speaker to reference Eliot Spitzer’s turn as AG. “Two of which went on to become governor. Do you see a pattern here?”
Schneiderman shook his head in the background, but Baldwin kept going.
“I heard a rumor that Eric Schneiderman was visiting the governor’s mansion up in Albany and saw a state worker dumping some linens and bath towels into a garbage dump there. And they had the governor’s seal on them and the initials ES on them. And he said you might want to hold on to those.”
The crowd laughed as Schneiderman looked chagrined, and complained about having to start his tenure by following his longtime friend.
“I’m probably the only person in America who thinks of him as a campaign finance activist,” Schneiderman said.