Andrew Cuomo privately jokes that male rival wears eyeliner

A New York Times report sheds light on the governor's troubled relationship with his attorney general

Published January 16, 2014 5:00PM (EST)

  (AP/Mike Groll)
(AP/Mike Groll)

There have long been rumors of tension between New York state's governor and its attorney general, but if a Thursday report in the New York Times is correct, the relationship between the two men isn't just strained but downright toxic.

According to the Times, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been known to ask people in private if they think Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wears eyeliner, a habit the Times frames as the most obvious manifestation of the two men's discordant backgrounds and personalities. (Schneiderman suffers from glaucoma, and a side effect of the medicine he takes for it is thicker and darker eyelashes.)

The Times reports one anonymous Democrat, said to know both men well, saying that Cuomo and Schneiderman are “like oil and water, and lately fire seems to have been added.”

The catalyst for the two leading Democrats' latest round of under-the-radar squabbling, according to the Times, is differing opinions on how best to allocate the $613 million won by Schneiderman in a settlement with JPMorgan Chase.

The attorney general had negotiated terms with the bank which gave him "sole discretion" over how to use the money, and Schneiderman reportedly wants to devote the funds to "preventing avoidable foreclosures for thousands of struggling homeowners and expanding his office’s efforts to fight financial fraud." Cuomo, on the other hand, would rather the $613 million went into the New York's general fund, allowing it to be used "as the governor and legislators see fit."

But that's not the only place where Cuomo and Schneiderman don't see eye-to-eye. More from the Times:

When Mr. Cuomo first ran for governor, in 2002, Mr. Schneiderman sided with much of the state Democratic establishment in backing H. Carl McCall, whose broad support drove Mr. Cuomo to quit the primary. But Mr. Schneiderman did support Mr. Cuomo’s comeback as a candidate for attorney general in 2006.

Yet in 2010, Mr. Cuomo quietly aided the primary bid of Kathleen M. Rice, one of Mr. Schneiderman’s opponents in the Democratic primary for attorney general.

Tensions between the two politicians surfaced almost immediately, when Mr. Cuomo created the Department of Financial Services and put Benjamin Lawsky, a longtime aide and former federal prosecutor, in charge.

Mr. Cuomo wanted Mr. Lawsky to be able to investigate violations of the Martin Act, the sweeping New York securities law that has been a crucial tool in pursuing financial-industry malfeasance. But the governor backed down after business groups raised concerns.

Still, the decision to install Mr. Lawsky created a powerful rival.

“If you support the attorney general, you don’t do that,” said Jonathan R. Macey, a Yale law professor who closely follows Mr. Schneiderman’s office.

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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