Eric Schneiderman’s Reputation: From ‘Wouldn’t Get a Bawdy Joke’ to Brute, Overnight

Mr. Schneiderman has denied assaulting anyone, asserting that he engaged in “role-playing and other consensual sexual activity.”

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Members of the media gathered outside Mr. Schneiderman’s Upper West Side apartment on Tuesday. Credit Holly Pickett for The New York Times

“It’s so devastating on so many levels because he did great things in office, as a state senator, as attorney general,” said Linda Rosenthal, a Democratic assemblywoman from the Upper West Side, who has known Mr. Schneiderman since before his political career began. “Yet behind the scenes, he treated women like garbage.”

Mr. Schneiderman, 63, had widely been considered a future contender for governor in New York, a solidly blue state where Mr. Cuomo is also said to harbor higher ambitions. Mr. Schneiderman’s campaign accounts were substantial, with more than $8.5 million in the bank, an increasingly high profile burnished by his long battles with Mr. Trump and appearances on national talk shows.

The shock of the allegations was shared inside the attorney general’s office itself, which has a work force of about 1,800 people, including 700 lawyers. “There were no allegations against him made in the office,” said Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for the attorney general. “And we were not aware of any allegations until we got press calls.”

Those calls apparently began to land on Monday morning, after several weeks of rumors — in Albany and elsewhere — about a possible investigation into Mr. Schneiderman’s personal life and behavior. The graphic details of the women’s stories seemed even more stark considering the enlightened-man elements of his biography and his standing on the Upper West Side, the city’s traditional bastion of its most liberal-minded voters.

Mr. Schneiderman was a liberal fixture of the State Senate for years, with a deep knowledge of the intricacies of public policy and a willingness to engage in details. But former staffers also said that Mr. Schneiderman could be detached from the minutiae of the attorney general’s office, and rarely spoiled for political fights. While his predecessors, Eliot Spitzer and Mr. Cuomo, are large and assertive personalities, Mr. Schneiderman had a more passive demeanor, at least from what most people saw.

He sometimes complained of insomnia, and was known to come into the office later than most employees and had mentioned taking sleep aids. One person who worked in the attorney general’s office said that Mr. Schneiderman infrequently got to the office before 11 a.m., and had to be woken by his staff for earlier events on numerous occasions. There were also a couple of weekend events that had to be canceled because Schneiderman said he fell in the shower or suffered some other mishap at home.

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Mr. Schneiderman, center, joined a group of Dreamers and recent immigrants after a DACA hearing at a Brooklyn court in January. Credit Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In another example, another person who worked with Mr. Schneiderman in 2014, recalled an incident in which the attorney general canceled a series of news conferences after injuring himself in a hotel room in Albany and requiring help from a security detail. There was also concern in his office that Mr. Schneiderman, who is divorced with a grown daughter, dated women who were significantly younger.

Before those assertions, Mr. Schneiderman had been known for being a health aficionado. He gave out books on wellness, with titles like “Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation.” He attended retreats at the Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, Mass., and did yoga in the office. (Ms. Rosenthal noted that she and Mr. Schneiderman had co-sponsored a bill, in separate chambers, that protected yoga studios from certain regulations.) He might have a glass or two of wine at a fund-raiser, former staffers recalled, but nothing excessive.

But in The New Yorker article, the women who had accused Mr. Schneiderman of violence said that many of the acts occurred after alcohol had been consumed. There had been tabloid stories describing Mr. Schneiderman’s alleged drug use — which had also been passed around by Mr. Trump. His office denied the accounts, though The New Yorker article said Mr. Schneiderman had misused Xanax.

On Tuesday, Mr. Schneiderman’s fellow Democrats in Albany were expressing shock at the details, citing a public persona that was far more subdued, almost to the point of being restrained. “He seemed beyond strait-laced,” said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a Democrat from Buffalo. “The kind of guy who wouldn’t get a bawdy joke.”

Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, whom Mr. Schneiderman defeated in the 1998 primary for State Senate, his first elected position in Albany, also said that he had never seen the attorney general drink, but had been struck by a certain professional arrogance, perhaps born of his pedigree: Amherst College, Harvard Law, and a father, Irwin Schneiderman, who was a prominent corporate lawyer. “He had a tendency to talk down to people,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “And didn’t know he was doing it.”

Mr. O’Donnell said the accusations were “horrifying” and didn’t “comport with the person I interacted with,” though he had sometimes been curious about Mr. Schneiderman’s succession of girlfriends. “I kind of always wondered why was that,” he said. “Here’s a handsome wealthy guy with a beautiful apartment on West End Avenue, and all these beautiful women. And no one is choosing to stay.”

Mr. Schneiderman’s reputation for propriety was so entrenched in Albany that he was meant to be lampooned at a legislative correspondents’ variety show on Monday night — before the story broke — for being “so lame,” and unscathed by the scandals that have often waylaid Albany politicians. After the magazine article was published, that musical number was altered, exchanging Mr. Schneiderman’s name for Chuck Schumer’s, the Democratic senator from New York.

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