I was Eric Schneiderman’s Labor Bureau chief for almost six years.
Our team did great work: We filed civil lawsuits against scofflaw employers and criminally prosecuted others who grossly abused their workers. We proposed laws to expand people’s rights; we issued reports to shed light on violations; we were tireless in our commitment to ensuring justice for vulnerable New Yorkers.
I left the office more than a year ago. Now that Schneiderman has resigned over allegations he abused former romantic partners, though, all anyone asks is, “Did you know?” Suddenly I am more popular than usual at my kids’ school: “When did you find out? Were there any signs?” No one has ever been so interested in my work.
It is not a great feeling to be the object of voyeuristic interest. The revelations about Schneiderman can make those of us associated with his administration feel a little awkward in public, slightly tainted by association. Our serious and high-minded endeavors are suddenly a punchline; imagine the lawyers handling Harvey Weinstein’s case describing their work at a cocktail party or family gathering?
I know most people will not lose the idealism that brought them to government in the first place, because I have been through this before: I also worked for years for former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in 2008 over reports he had hired prostitutes. Yes, it feels awful to learn the truth about a boss you felt proud to work for. But you do not go into public service if you do not believe in the mission, and not even revelations like this week’s can shake my faith that the work we did during those years mattered deeply.
To get it out of the way: No, I did not know. None of us knew. There were no signs, except for the baseline fact that anyone running for elective office is maybe a little off, sometimes in ways that greatly improve the world. But we did not know: We were too busy writing briefs and getting home late to our kids. We were too busy interviewing witnesses, reviewing documents, drafting bills — doing the work of the people.
It sounds corny, doesn’t it? But that is truly how most of us feel, whether we were