Replacing Schneiderman Is a Big Job. Some Say It’s One for a Woman.

The resignation of Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, amid allegations of violence against women has roiled the state’s political circles.

As New York’s state legislators huddle behind closed doors to select a temporary replacement for the disgraced former attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman, they will be choosing more than just a six-month placeholder for the state’s top legal job.

They may also be deciding the future of the outsize responsibility Mr. Schneiderman seemed to envision for the position — a responsibility he treated as not merely enforcing the state’s laws, but defying President Trump and safeguarding democratic ideals.

In the wake of Mr. Schneiderman’s stunning resignation Monday night after four women accused him in The New Yorker of physical abuse, whoever replaces him will immediately step into a high-profile, almost celebrity role. As a result, the race to replace him has taken on a significance, and drawn a level of attention, usually reserved more for general elections than for a half-year holdover position, the kind that might normally be bestowed quietly as a résumé ornament upon a longtime political loyalist.

Already on Tuesday, elected officials were discussing the symbolism of the role, suggesting that they would like to see a woman, perhaps a woman of color, hold the office for the first time.

“The attorney general is a very important position. It’s even more important today, in some ways, because of what’s going on in Washington,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at an unrelated news conference.

“I think a qualified woman would be great, especially in this time,” he added.

The New Yorker reported that Mr. Schneiderman slapped, choked or spat on at least four women with whom he had been romantically involved. The horrific accusations included alcohol-fueled rages, racist remarks and threats to kill the women or to use his power as the state’s top law enforcement officer against them if they defied him.

By Tuesday afternoon, Letitia James, New York City’s public advocate, had emerged as a possible front-runner, according to legislators familiar with the discussions. Under state law, the vacancy will be filled by a joint vote of the State Assembly and the State Legislature, effectively leaving the decision to Assembly Democrats, who comprise a formidable majority of the 213-member Legislature.

Ms. James, who is black, served as an assistant attorney general and public defender before being elected in 2014 to the public advocate position, where she acts as a watchdog over city agencies. She has railed against Mr. Trump’s policies and has advocated for gender pay equity and criminal justice reform.

Reached by telephone, Ms. James declined to comment. Carl E. Heastie, the Assembly speaker, said no decision was imminent, though he said that he expected to finalize details on a process for vetting candidates soon. But he told reporters that “diversity does matter.” Two other sources with knowledge of the Assembly Democrats’ discussions said there was general support for elevating a woman to the role.

For now, at least, a woman will lead the office: The state solicitor general, Barbara D. Underwood, will assume Mr. Schneiderman’s position until the Legislature chooses a successor. In a statement, Ms. Underwood called the office’s work “critically important.”

“Our office has never been stronger,” she said.

Ms. Underwood, a graduate of Harvard and Georgetown, has argued 20 cases before the Supreme Court and served as a clerk for former Justice Thurgood Marshall. She is the first woman to occupy the office.

Regardless of whom the Legislature selects as an interim attorney general, the race will be reopened in the fall for a general election in November. Whoever wins the next four-year term will be closely watched not only in New York but also nationwide, as he or she decides whether to double down on the legal gauntlet Mr. Schneiderman threw down for Mr. Trump. As attorney general, Mr. Schneiderman filed more than 100 legal or administrative actions against Republicans in Washington, sued the Weinstein Company over potential civil rights violations, and moved to change state law so that he could prosecute President Trump’s aides even if he pardoned them.

Already, the list of possible contenders is long and growing.

It includes Kathleen Rice, a United States representative from Long Island who unsuccessfully challenged Mr. Schneiderman in the 2010 Democratic primary; Alphonso David, Mr. Cuomo’s chief counsel; Michael Gianaris, a state senator from Queens and chief political strategist for the Democratic conference; Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law School professor who ran for governor in 2014; Carrie H. Cohen, a former federal prosecutor who handled the corruption trial of the former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver; Representative Sean Patrick Maloney; and Benjamin Lawsky, formerly the state’s top financial regulator.

In a possible sign of the elevated visibility of the attorney general’s role, some of the other names that have been floated seemed more like a liberal wish list than a viable ballot lineup: Preet Bharara, the former United States attorney from Manhattan whose feud with Mr. Trump may have outdone Mr. Schneiderman’s, for example — or even Hillary Clinton. (Asked on CNN on Tuesday about the possibility of a bid for the position, Mr. Bharara did not outright dismiss the idea.)

None except Ms. Teachout has publicly expressed interest. Ms. Teachout said on Tuesday that she was “seriously considering running.” Press aides for Ms. Rice and Mr. Maloney both declined to comment, but sources familiar with their thinking each said they were seriously mulling a run. Both are already financially well positioned to launch a bid: Ms. Rice and Mr. Maloney each has more than $1.5 million in campaign cash on hand, as does Mr. Gianaris.

For all the political jockeying, women’s advocacy groups said the succession debate should remain focused on the heart of the attorney general’s role: its core legal responsibilities.

“We’re going to have more and more of these cases” of alleged sexual harassment or violence, said Sonia Ossorio, president of New York’s arm of the National Organization for Women, citing the strength of the #MeToo movement. “This role of being the top law enforcement officer in an era where we still have a great deal of discrimination and violence against women — we need someone who can really prioritize that.”

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