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March 17, 2008

Eliot Spitzer’s Sudden Fall


One of the brightest stars in American politics has wrecked his career thanks to recklessness and stupidity. Eliot Spitzer, the man who looked like a transformative figure in New York politics, and possibly even a future presidential contender, has now left the office of governor of New York after only 13 months, thanks to a prostitution scandal. 


The scandal and its aftermath are shocking for many reasons – from the sudden fall of a rising political star to the sordidness of all the details to the hypocrisy angle, as a man who went after the bad guys with vigor but turned out to be not such a great guy himself.


Unlike anyone in politics since Rudy Giuliani, Spitzer built his image as that of a tough-as-nails prosecutor who, as New York’s two-term attorney general, rode a series of successful convictions and enforcement actions into higher office. As a result, Spitzer was as reviled on Wall Street as any political figure in recent memory. And the Street certainly rejoiced at his departure, for a few days anyway, until the near-collapse of Bear Stearns quickly reclaimed their attention. Regardless, Spitzer most likely can’t count on a post-gubernatorial job with Goldman Sachs or Merrill Lynch.


Perhaps most shocking is that Spitzer, a born lawyer who has conducted hundreds of criminal prosecutions and clearly knows criminal procedures backwards and forwards, would do so many things that could so clearly cause him to be caught. Large cash transfers? Illegal commerce over interstate lines? Talking, uncoded, on a cell phone about criminal activity? As one blogger pointed out, even the 15-year-olds on The Wire know better than to do any of that. 

What with sex, money, politics and the misfortunate of a Democratic politician all coming together in one story, the Spitzer story was in the wheelhouse of the New York Post more than any for a decade. And they didn't disappoint, devoting 11 pages of coverage to the scandal the first day and not letting up for the rest of the week. Later in the week, the name, photos and even the Myspace page of Spitzer’s favored prostitute surfaced, with the Post giving it major play and late night talk hosts being handed dozens of easy jokes.


The Spitzer affair has also brought up questions of whether political wives should stand by their husbands, as well as the ancient debate – call it the world’s oldest debate – over whether prostitution should be legal. Whether it should be or not will likely not be solved as a result of this, though it was, of course, illegal at the time that Spitzer did it.

There’s also the question of whether the scandal will have any effect on the presidential race. Will it? Most likely not. Spitzer's scandal could remind some voters of the Clinton scandals of the ’90s, which could either help Hillary or hurt her, depending on whether voters feel like punishing her or feeling sorry for her.


And yes, Spitzer is both a Hillary endorser and superdelegate, but I can't imagine that many people care enough about such a thing that it would affect their vote. New York’s primary already took place, and the general election is so far away that it’s likely a dozen scandals at least will emerge between now and then. I call it a draw.

The scandal will, though, affect presidential politics another way: Spitzer had often been mentioned as good a bet as anyone in America to become the first Jewish president of the United States. This idea, of course, will now not come to pass, although Spitzer did give way to another first – David Paterson, who will become both the first African-American and the first legally blind individual to serve as governor of New York. 
Indeed, the same day the Spitzer scandal became public, Mike Ciresi announced that he was dropping out of the Minnesota U.S. Senate race, effectively ceding the Democratic nomination to comedian Al Franken. So yes, Spitzer has gone, in 24 hours, from the most likely first Jewish president to one less likely to earn that distinction than Al Franken. 


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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