Not too long ago, the Governor of the State of Connecticut, John Rowland,
announced his resignation from office. A jovial enough fellow, he made the politically
lethal mistake of accepting the gifts offered in return for gubernatorial favors
while he was still in office and in the public eye. His cronies were none
the smarter; they ended up in the Federal Penitentiary as well.
Just recently, another governor, Eliot Spitzer of New York State, resigned his
office. His crime? The pleasures of the flesh, bought and paid for, rather than earned via
love, respect and mutual understanding. Even though rumor and innuendo had it that
Connecticut Governor Rowland was a mean drunk who threw his first wife down a staircase
and had been witnessed smacking his second wife in public, John Rowland never cheated
on his wife.
Every once in a while politics produces a "crusader for the public good" who
ends up crashing and burning because they take their crusades too far. The best
similarity I could conjure up to the sad situation of Eliot Spitzer's fall from grace
was the story of Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy's notorious Anti-Communist
witch hunt during the 1950s ended up backfiring when the egotistical McCarthy
went after the U.S. Army. But the damage had already been done; McCarthy's
investigations typically turned up nothing, but the sheer number of individuals
investigated did, in fact, reveal people with Communist ties. It's kinda like
going after varmint or birds with a shotgun; sooner or later a pellet or two's
going to hit something. Unlike Spitzer, McCarthy remained in office,
licking his wounds, and died due to complications of alcoholism.
In the event you're wondering why I haven't chosen any of the more modern
politicians who've been caught with their pants down (figuratively and
literally, in an airport men's room), it's the sheer irony of each man's
situation that makes Spitzer's, and to a lesser degree McCarthy's, humiliations
similar. McCarthy's problem was that he was willing to trample upon the backs of
others, many who were innocents, to advance his own career. Spitzer's problem,
basically, was an enormous ego and vindictive personality.
Now, Great Britain had its John "Jack" Profumo affair in 1963,
however, Profumo was different in that he was not a "holier than thou" type of
politician and actually did a lot of genuine good for his country. He didn't
spend a lot of time blowing his own horn, he didn't overtly criticize the
failings of others, and generally was a very fine politician. Profumo got into
hot water after being caught in a relationship with a nineteen-year-old girl who
was also bedding a Soviet attache. Sadly, Profumo made the same error that U.S.
President Bill Clinton made. Both men could've saved themselves a whole lot of
trouble in the long run had they come clean. Profumo's response to questions as
to the impropriety of his relationship with the girl was the U.K.'s equivalent
of Clinton's famous denial, "I did not have sex with that young woman."
Ethics and Integrity
I will not tolerate this behavior, ethics and accountability must
and will remain rigorous in my administration ... I have always stated that
I want ethics and integrity to be the hallmarks of my administration.
— Eliot Spitzer
To put a gender twist on a familiar quote: "the gentleman protesteth too
It is true that Spitzer, much in the fashion of Gotti-gang buster Federal Attorney for the Southern District of New York Rudy Giuliani,
effectively ended Gambino crime family activity with regard to trucking and
labor racketeering in New York City's garment district. It was that and other
effective prosecutions that made Spitzer the darling of the New York press.
However, Attorney General Spitzer
made a name for himself as the "Sheriff of Wall Street", engaging in a series of
actions against major financial institutions and even the chief of the New York
Stock Exchange at the time. A 2006 Wall Street Journal report discussed the
discrepancies between Mr. Spitzer's descriptions of his actions during his term
as New York State's Attorney General and descriptions of his actions by others.
Spitzer appeared on CNBC television and stated that he brought a lawsuit against former
NYSE CEO Dick Grasso after Grasso's successor, John Reed, "walked into my office
and gave me [a NYSE report with regard to Grasso's compensation package]
and said 'Eliot, our board doesn't want to handle this, you have to.'"
Later, under oath, Mr. Reed was asked if what Mr. Spitzer said on the television
was true. Reed replied "No. No. It's - I don't want to get into truth or
not-truth - it is not a good description of what happened." Reed further asserted
that it was Spitzer who would be delighted to get his hands on the internal NYSE
report. The battle in the court has become so vigorous that both Reed and
Spitzer have a vested interest in denying responsibility. Reed, however, was
speaking under oath, and Spitzer to a television journalist.
Spitzer went on to commence legal action against such corporations as tax
accounting giant H&R Block and insurance giant AIG. Worse, the Wall Street
Journal reported that the former Chairman of Goldman Sachs, John Whitehead,
published an op-ed piece criticizing Spitzer. Whitehead, again on the pages of
The Wall Street Journal, described the content of a telephone call he
received from Spitzer shortly after the piece was published. "Mr. Whitehead,
it's now a war between us and you've fired the first shot. I will be coming
after you. You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay
dearly for what you have done."
Spitzer responded to the accusation by saying that he had a lot of "passion"
about the issue but denied threatening Whitehead. Meanwhile, Spitzer aide Darren
Dopp told news reporters during a press conference that Mr. Whitehead was
"nutty." And imagine the gall of an elected official, particularly a State's
Attorney General, contacting former Chairman of General Electric Jack Welch by
way of using Welch as, essentially, a messenger boy to warn NYSE executive Ken
Langone that Spitzer intended, in so many words, to "put a spike through
Langone's heart." Welch confirmed this assertion, made in Newsweek Magazine.
Mr. Welch has a lot of respect among his peers in business. He made a lot of
money for General Electric and this writer can tell you that our mutual
acquaintance GE executive Lawrence Bossidy never had a bad word to say about
Jack Welch. In fact, Bossidy said that on a moral and ethical plane Welch was
beyond reproach. How incredibly embarrassing for Welch to have to put up with
the upstart Attorney General. Suffice it to say what Spitzer did to Welch, an
"elder statesman" of commerce studied and admired to by students of business,
was the equivalent of the Attorney General of the United States going to Linus
Torvalds and ordering Torvalds to tell Bill Gates that the government was
gonna skewer him with anti-trust litigation.
The above paragraphs describe only the tip of a Titanic-worthy iceberg's
worth of accusations and anecdotes about Eliot Spitzer basically being,
according to a spokesman for New York Congresswoman Sue Kelly, a "thug."
Spitzer's threats, verbal tirades and other misdeeds were ignored by the press
but for the Wall Street Journal, which shed light on Spitzer's dark side
(in contrast to Spitzer's television ads during his gubernatorial run which
basically aggregated the accolades of the New York press he'd earned over his
years as Attorney General). How ironic that they questioned his "restraint,
honesty and good judgment."
What was most destructive about Spitzer's term as Attorney General was that
if he made his way through a henhouse (for example, an investigation into bid-rigging
by insurance companies), and discovered a single bad egg, he'd sweep the "henhouse"
clean. This cost many their jobs, reputations, and caused stock fluctuations
that hurt millions of people. And if an indictment didn't pan out, Spitzer would
just say "oops" and be on his way. Of course, the average "man on the street"
took nearly as much delight as did Spitzer as major financial institutions fell
or took tremendous hits one after another.
Spitzer won the race for Governor of the State of New York in 2007. Overall,
the people of New York State who elected him in a near landslide victory,
thought of him as a champion of law and order. "Mister Clean" as he became known
promised to change the "ethics of Albany." If change of the size and scope of
his accomplishments in the world of finance were coming to the State's capitol,
the people were all for it.
Among his more progressive moves were a bill, supported by U.S. Senator
Hillary Clinton, which would provide drivers' licenses to illegal aliens. That
flopped fast. A bill authorizing same-sex marriage flopped. There was also a
bill which passed; one which Spitzer championed. The legislation imposed harsher
new penalties for the crime of prostitution. Sound familiar? Yes, indeed, Eliot
Spitzer wanted to become as famous and as popular as Rudy Giuliani did by
cleaning up New York; only as Governor, Spitzer's aspirations were higher, he
didn't have a mere city to clean up; he had an entire state (and a large one,
Spitzer did, indeed, begin to act on his campaign promises immediately. The
press lauded his quick action with regard to investigation of financial
mismanagement, bribery, and other facets of New York State government that had
basically become part of the landscape. To his detriment, however, he was not
capable of reaching agreement on a budget and the state is facing record
deficits because of it.
The issue between Spitzer and his arch-rival Republican State Senator Joe
Bruno earned him a little more criticism in the press, but not much. The issue
was a vicious attack by Spitzer who improperly (via his minions) utilized the
New York State Police in an attempt to drudge up improprieties with regard to
Senator Bruno's use of a New York State helicopter and other vehicles. Spitzer
had been quoted by insiders who insisted upon remaining nameless that he would
"bring down" Joe Bruno. When no wrongdoing on the part of Bruno was found,
Spitzer shifted the blame to two aides and long-time denizens of the State
House, sacrificing them to keep himself above reproach. The following words from
Spitzer are a portion of a New York Times Op-Ed piece written by Spitzer
early in his first year as governor:
Though two independent investigations proved that no illegal
activity occurred on my watch, it is crystal clear that what members of my
administration did was wrong — no ifs, ands or buts.
I have apologized to Joe Bruno, the Senate majority leader, and now
I want to apologize to all New Yorkers.
What you've been reading about in the papers and watching on
television this week is not what we are about. In fact, it represents just
On my first day in office, I brought my staff together and told
them what our guiding principles must be: "First, we're going to fight for
what we believe in. And second, we're going to maintain the highest ethical
standards while doing it."
Over the past few weeks, two members of my administration forgot
that second principle — creating an appearance that the State Police were
being used inappropriately.
As soon as this became clear, we acted immediately and decisively,
suspending one of my longtime advisers indefinitely and transferring the
other out of the governor's office. These steps were not taken lightly. Both
of these people have served New York with distinction for decades.
are ongoing about whether or not Spitzer's millionaire father, a real-estate
mogul, made illegal loans to his son's gubernatorial campaign. All of this,
however seemed to magically disappear.
Spitzer happened, also, to be very close to U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton. It
was only natural that Spitzer, a Democrat, support his own Senator. And a great
supporter he was, with his squeaky-clean reputation and rather charismatic way
with a speech. (Senator Clinton has had no comment on Governor Spitzer's troubles, and in fact
the only noise so far from the Clinton camp at all was the sound of Hillary tearing up
a photograph of she and the Governor and disposing of it down a toilet.)
They Stumbled Into It
This piece could go on and on reiterating the statements of dozens of persons
who've worked with Eliot Spitzer over the years, and dozens more who've suffered
his ire. Let's not continue to go there, lest this become a broken record
accusing the man again and again of a furious temper, an ego the size of the
five boroughs of Manhattan, a willingness to make unreasonable threats and then
deny them at his convenience, and a legendary arrogance and abrasive
Not too long ago, two banks approached the FBI and voiced their concerns over
Spitzer's transfers of considerable amounts of funds in unusual fashions; wire
transfers, cash, and other methods that smacked of misuse of campaign funds or
worse, State funds. A long investigation ensued, and much to their surprise, the
monies were not going to some off-shore paper company, but rather an ultra-elite
call girl ring based in New York but operating not only in the U.S. but in
London and Paris as well. Indeed, the "Emperor's Club VIP" rated their
prostitutes on a website using a system of three to seven "diamonds," and
charged consummately for their services, occasionally exceeding $2,500 per hour.
The women were sent by air and train from New York to other major cities and met
clandestinely with their clients, an A-list of the rich and powerful.
Four principals of "Emperor's Club" were indicted on prostitution and money
laundering charges. Spitzer was informed by the Feds about their knowledge of
his involvement in the case as early as March 7, 2008. The case hit the radio and television news shortly on or
about March 9th, 2008. Upon closer examination of the records of the high-class
call girl ring, and comparison with Mr. Spitzer's transfers of tens of thousands
of dollars over a period of months, it became clear that Governor Spitzer was
quite possibly the "Client Number 9" described in the indictment of the
"Emperor's Club four."
Of All People...
Eliot Spitzer drove from Albany in a torrential rainstorm the evening of
March 9, 2008. His destination was the luxury apartment in New York City where
his family was located. He told his wife that he'd had trysts over a number
of months with prostitutes on several occasions. The couple then informed their
three teen-aged daughters.
The following day Spitzer appeared at a press conference apologizing to his
family and the people of the State of New York for betraying their trust. He did
not, however, make any mention of resignation. In typical arrogant Spitzer
fashion, after dropping this bombshell without naming his transgressions, he
concluded the press conference by informing reporters that he wouldn't entertain
questions and would "report back in short order." It took him two more days to
announce that he would resign as Governor of the State of New York effective
March 17, 2008.
Despite his resignation, Spitzer is still suffering significant legal
exposure on a number of fronts; State charges of prostitution and at the very
least continued investigation into the sources and uses of his funds. Many
Federal charges could be lodged, as well, the most peculiar being under the Mann
Act, a 100-year old piece of legislation making it illegal to transport person(s)
across state lines for the purpose of promoting or committing prostitution.
It took a day for Republicans to clamor for the Democrat governor's
resignation or impeachment. Not a single Democrat came to his aid. When the
announcement came that Spitzer had indeed resigned, cheers erupted on the
trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange; the Associated Press reported that
on Wall Street, Spitzer was known as an over-zealous bully who'd ruined people's
careers and lives.
The young woman Spitzer was recorded by the FBI discussing with one of the
indicted is a delightfully pretty, petite brunette who, beside plying the
world's oldest profession, is also a singer. She's making a lot of money; over
one million people have downloaded at least one of her two songs. Spitzer had
spent the night with her at the de luxe Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C..
The cost for her transportation and services? $4,800. It's estimated by the Feds
that Spitzer may have spent upwards of $100,000 on the pleasures of the flesh
doing business with the high-priced hookers.
Spitzer's wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, who created and manages a non-profit for
the benefit of children, stayed by her husband's side (although not appearing to
be the happiest of individuals) during his television appearances. Perhaps she
and Hillary Clinton can start a self-help group called "Wives of very powerful
politicians who cheat; Anonymous." There are a few more women who'd certainly be
welcome at those meetings. At least in the case of Mrs. Spitzer, an attractive,
soft-spoken, fashionably-garbed blonde, the words of actor Paul Newman ring true: "Why go out and eat
hamburger when you can have steak at home?"
All in all, Spitzer, I guess, thought he was above the law and wouldn't get
caught. Power such as he wielded, arguably the most powerful political position
outside of Washington, is a very potent opiate; and those under its effect are
wont to do self-destructive things, just as much as the junkie who's high on a dime bag of
heroin and injures himself in an abandoned building. What's really
different and important about this political defeat is the fact that Eliot
Spitzer had stepped on many, many people during the course of his career. He
was, for lack of better words, not a likeable person. The lesson to be learned
in this, beyond anything to do with political power, is best summed up by an old
adage. "You catch more flies with a teaspoon of honey than you do with a gallon
"Arrest John, er... Eliot, Right Now!" by Michael Daly, The Daily News
(New York, NY)
(Accessed March 16, 2008)
"'Private Failings:' The Rise, and Sudden Fall, of Eliot Spitzer (transcript
of radio broadcast) Voice of America Online
http://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/2008-03-14-voa1.cfm (Accessed March
Op-Classic, 2007: Eliot Spitzer on Ethical Principles. Reiteration of New
York Times Op-Ed piece "An Apology from Albany," by Eliot Spitzer, July 29, 2007
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/16/opinion/16opclassic.html (Accessed March
"SNL Shows Blatant Anti-Spitzer Bias, Endorses Obama" by Rachel Sklar The
Huffington Post (a website), March 16, 2008
(Accessed March 16, 2008)
"Deconstructing Spitzer's Spiraling End," by Amy Westfeldt and Michael
Gormley, The Associated Press Online,
(Accessed March 16, 2008)
"Eliot Spitzer's Real Agenda... is Eliot Spitzer," by Kimberley Strassel,
The Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2006
(Accessed March 16, 2008)
"Life Isn't Fair - Just Ask Eliot Spitzer or Hillary Clinton," by Norman
Webster, The Montreal Gazette on Canada.com
(Accessed March 16, 2008)
A discussion with GE Board Member Lawrence Bossidy and the writer at a political fund-raiser
in Ridgefield, Connecticut in 1991.