New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman Credit: Charles Eckert

Attorneys general in New York aren't usually very quiet. Andrew M. Cuomo and his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, both made lots of noise in the job and then rode the wave of sound into the governor's mansion.

It's been a different story so far with Eric T. Schneiderman, whose low public profile since taking office in January contrasts with his penchant for the spotlight when he was a state senator.

Recently, though, Schneiderman has launched a pair of welcome public initiatives that suggest he may be coming out of his shell. In both cases, the attorney general seeks to plow extremely fertile ground.

First, Schneiderman is looking into the mortgage activities of at least three big banks during the credit boom leading up to the financial crisis of 2008. And why not? The U.S. banking system came close to blowing itself up in those days by lending too much money to people who didn't have a prayer of paying it back, and then packaging these faulty loans into securities for sale to investors around the world. Only a giant federal bailout -- now mostly repaid -- saved the financial system from Armageddon.

It isn't clear if Schneiderman can find evidence of wrongdoing that others haven't, whether any resulting cases will be criminal or civil, or even what part of a broadly wormy mortgage process he's focusing on. Regardless, what the banks did in those days is well worth probing, and we'll be interested to see what he unearths.

Second, Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli recently announced a creative-sounding agreement to work together in the fight against public corruption. The intriguing idea is not just that they could share resources, but that the comptroller could help the AG get around some of the legal constraints that prevent him from investigating certain types of corruption on his own initiative.

The comptroller has always had the power to refer cases to the attorney general. But it's uncertain to what extent the attorney general can simply point in the direction of suspected corruption so that the comptroller can, by making a referral, open the door to an investigation. The comptroller and AG have never before had such a formal working agreement, and the implications of this one aren't fully clear.

All that said, it's good to see these two important officials working together in their watchdog roles to sniff out public corruption -- which is so widespread in New York that even a bloodhound without a pulse ought to be able to find it. Gov. Cuomo, by pushing through a truly balanced budget on schedule, has already taken serious steps toward restoring faith in Albany. The new ethics law he's pressing for would help too, and we urge legislators to embrace it.

Meanwhile we'll be watching to see what Schneiderman comes up with, both on Wall Street and with DiNapoli. No one can say for sure if these efforts will bear fruit. But it's nice to see the attorney general working in the garden.

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