RSS Feed for this Blog

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Spitzer: The Week That Was

- It's now been nearly two weeks since the story broke, but, after returning from a week out of the country, I found that the downfall of Eliot Spitzer continues to reverberate and amaze. It's still unbelievable, and the subsequent admissions by Governor David Paterson add a sense of the surreal to the scene.

Since Spitzer stepped down, a picture has emerged of a man who was unable to adapt his uncompromising style to the political realities of Albany. I, of course, voted for him and to be perfectly honest, I too, given his electoral mandate and seemingly unstoppable political momentum, believed, naively as it turned out, that he'd be able to steamroll the status quo and bring meaningful change to policy and process. That obviously was not to be the case, and Sunday's piece in the NY Times revealed that the Governor was simply unable to deal with not getting his way.

It is hard to say what role, if any, Mr. Spitzer’s escalating disappointment in Albany played in his extraordinarily risky, self-destructive behavior, and it remains unclear when his once seemingly idyllic life went so awry. But the interviews with his aides and others who encountered him over the last several months made it clear that he had come to feel deeply ambivalent about his job as governor, the latest, grandest political prize in what many calculated would be a rise that could take him to the White House.

In fact, several aides said that 14 months into his term, he felt profoundly exasperated with the experience of trying to bend a powerful and divided State Legislature to his will.

He just could not accept the way things worked, or did not work, in Albany, the aides said. He was offended to the point of distraction by the fact that his chief rival, Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader, was seen by many to have outmaneuvered and outwitted him. Mr. Bruno had taken to calling him “a spoiled rich-kid brat.”

And the aides, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity out of deference to the wounded Mr. Spitzer, said the former governor, for all of his estimable brilliance, was often a poor chief executive: combative, micromanaging, and unable to take a long view when things went wrong.

Despite Albany’s often dysfunctional ways, there were allies to be had, coalitions to be assembled. But he most often saw them as enemies, all part of a system that had thwarted reform. [NY Times]
But though Spitzer evidently wore his frustration with his job on his sleeve, even his closest staff members had no clue of his secret life.
When office talk digressed into rumors of state officials having extramarital affairs, Spitzer appeared shocked.

“That’s appalling,” he said to an aide, expressing his moral outrage. “Do you think that could be true?”

So when Eliot Spitzer, whose political career rose by accusing others of behaving unethically as well as criminally, last week was toppled because of his involvement with a prostitution ring, those closest to him thought they were dreaming. [Buffalo News]
We've also learned in the past week that, despite Justice Department officials' pointed denials that there was any political motivation behind the investigation of Spitzer, the Department used some of its most intrusive tactics against the Governor.
The scale and intensity of the investigation of Mr. Spitzer, then the governor of New York, seemed on its face to be a departure for the Justice Department, which aggressively investigates allegations of wrongdoing by public officials, but almost never investigates people who pay prostitutes for sex.

A review of recent federal cases shows that federal prosecutors go sparingly after owners and operators of prostitution enterprises, and usually only when millions of dollars are involved or there are aggravating circumstances, like human trafficking or child exploitation.
Bradley D. Simon, a veteran Justice Department trial lawyer who was federal prosecutor in Brooklyn throughout the 1990s, said that although it was rare for the department to use so many resources on the workings of a prostitution ring, the involvement of such a high-level politician must change the equation.

“If they’ve got some evidence of a high-ranking public official involved in violations of federal criminal code, it may not be unreasonable for them to pursue it,” he said. Still, he said, “I don’t think prostitution has been a high priority at the Justice Department.” [NY Times]
The question of the feds' motivation is a sensitive and totally relevant one given the scandalous politicization of the Justice Department under former AG Alberto Gonzales, and questionable prosecutions such as the one that has sent former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman to well as the slow pace of the long-running investigation of Republican Joe Bruno. So the claim by Republican operative and dirty trickster Roger Stone that he tipped off the FBI of Spitzer's indiscretions is worth considering in that context. The timing is the key - it's been reported that the investigation commenced in July in response to the bank reports of unusual financial transfers. The Times noted:
Relying heavily on financial records and court approved wiretaps, investigators found that Mr. Spitzer was a customer of an expensive prostitution operation, which used a Web site to attract customers who paid thousands of dollars an hour for the services of its young women.
Stone claims he spilled the beans to the FBI on November 19; so it's most unclear whether the Feds already knew. And actually, the Post reported that Stone's letter came in response to the FBI contacting him. So, considering Stone's credibility, or lack thereof, it's altogether possible that he learned of the prostitution investigation before writing the letter, adding the thing about Spitzer wearing calf-length black socks just to add his own special touch to the affair. I suppose that I'm willing, for now, to accept the timeline and events as the Justice Department claims. Spitzer surely left a blazing trail, one that any self-respecting inspectors were certainly going to follow. But we'll certainly be on the lookout for further developments on the question of any political motivation behind the events.

As for Paterson, while the events are certainly different, I think that the relative free pass that he's received in response to his own admissions of infidelity goes to show how anxious Albany was for some fresh air. Given the animosity against Spitzer from politicians of both parties, I would guess that , if the circumstances of his affairs were instead along the lines of Paterson's, there still would have been calls for him to resign.


Anonymous said...

THe comment and article about Patterson's grandfather (in the comment section a few postings back) was interesting. From a Paterson (current governor's great granfather) as a blacksmith for the horse Upset to a grandson Governor Paterson as the overseer of NYRA.

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with Bruno,he was

“a spoiled rich-kid brat.”

It's great to see Spitzer go.

Am I wrong, or Hasn't Paterson done the same thing?

Alan Mann said...

>>Anonymous said...
Have to agree with Bruno,he was “a spoiled rich-kid brat.”

Bruno was quoted in the New York Magazine profile as saying: “I never saw the other side, that the man doesn’t think straight, that the man has a quirk in his mind. There is something wrong with his mind. He doesn’t think like most. He’s two-faced. He does not tell the truth. He looks you in the eye and tells you something that is totally untrue.”

Seems as if Bruno was pretty perceptive.

Anonymous said...

J. Edgar Hoover has pissed in his pants so often from all the politicos that thought they were powerful enough to hold down two jobs.
Guess it was just alot easier to tap your shoes when you were holding all the cards.