The fall of a Governor...

Behind The News
March 12, 2008 12:50:56 PM PDT
It's a sad day, and there's no amount of let's-look-to-the-future or we've-got-to-work-together rhetoric that will take away from the stunning and stunningly fast collapse of the public career of Eliot Spitzer. This was a man who had the world by the kishkas when he was elected in November, 2006, with a record 67% of the vote. He had turned Wall Street upside down fighting corruption. We've talked about how his aggressive sometimes arrogant M.O. hurt him, but the hard truth is -- his crime-fighting Sheriff of Wall Street campaign helped clean up the aggressive and sometimes arrogant behavior of the financial Masters of the Universe types.

Yes they were gunning for Spitzer, but he was accustomed to political opponents. When he arrived in Albany in January of last year, he surrounded himself with prosecutorial types, not political folks. It was a big mistake.

Spitzer had never worked the legislative part of government, and he was used to steamrolling his way to his goals. He said he'd do as much when he arrived on the scene to clean up government. Certainly a noble goal.

But he ran into the powerful chain saw that is Joe Bruno, the tough and street wise Senate Republican leader, who himself is under federal investigation for possible wrongdoing. Spitzer believed Bruno had illegally used state aircraft for personal and political appearances. The way he -- or his staff -- set about trying to prove that was overzealous, and involved the improper use of state troopers.

"Troopergate" set the Spitzer agenda back big time, right out of the gate. And the Governor seemed to have had an epiphany about being nice and sharing his political blocks with his playmates in Albany.

Then came this week's bombshell accusations about prostitutes and the $80,000 he may have spent on them, dating back to his days as Attorney General, when he was prosecuting rings like the one he was reportedly involved with.

And so now the man who started as Eliot Ness, walks away from his job as Eliot Mess, to quote Michelle Glassberg, a loyal Ch. 7 viewer.

For Spitzer as a politician, his career seems over, as he made clear in his 2-minute, 30-second statement. So sad, given that his career trajectory could have had him, in some future four-year denomination, on the Presidential campaign trail as a candidate for the White House.

For Spitzer as a man - and for his wife of 21 years and for their three teenage daughters - this is and we suspect will be for a while a time of deep personal agony. They have talked about healing, but who knows what that means and how it will play out.

As someone whose personal life has in the past been splayed out in quite public fashion, I know that both Spitzers are, and should be, thinking first and foremost about their children. This is most difficult on them, because they have no control over what happened and what's happening.

And then the Spitzers, we assume, will resolve the issues in their partnership. I've no insight, only good wishes.

Gov. Spitzer will then have to iron out his legal problems, and they could be numerous. The U.S. Attorney in Manhattan today insisted there was no agreement with the federal government about possible charges -- as a quid pro quo for the resignation. At least no agreement yet.

For the State of New York, the watchwords are, as I said at the top, moving forward and working together, across party lines. Lt. Gov. David Paterson will take over on Monday. He had asked Spitzer to stay on till then so he could get a transition started.

Paterson is quite a figure: the state's first African American Governor, the first legally blind Governor in the country's history, and a man who is at once more liberal than Spitzer but far more conciliatory in his personality and tactics. He's a legislator, who's accustomed to compromising and cajoling, not steamrolling.

And he'll be working with Bruno, who clashed with Spitzer from Day One, perhaps because the two are both similar - scrappy and acid-tongued.

There is much work to do, including a budget to fashion by month's end (although that's happened only once in recent years).

Look for Paterson to keep Spitzer's cabinet and top advisers, at least for a while, to ease the transition. But then look for him to bring in his own people.

So many angles to this story -- the first time a New York Governor has resigned in a century over scandal, but the third time in the past four years that a Governor in the tri-state area has resigned in disgrace.

We'll have complete coverage of the resignation, the fallout, reaction - the whole enchilada -- tonight at 11.

We'll also have any other breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg with his AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.