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Spitzer, Stained

It’s been a swift fall from grace for New York’s new governor, Eliot Spitzer, who took office in January with 69 percent of the vote and (many think) visions of a future presidential run. Spitzer vowed, as a candidate, that “on Day One” of his administration, “everything changes.” But little has changed in scandal-rich Albany. Spitzer is now involved in an affaire some are calling Troopergate, and the governor is being compared to Richard Nixon. [Full disclosure: I worked as Policy Director for Tom Suozzi, the Nassau County Executive who ran against Spitzer for the Democratic nomination.]

Spitzer stormed into office with a series of high profile and frequently profane battles with the powers-that-be, calling himself a “f***ing steamroller” and State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno “a senile piece of sh*t.” Name-calling helped shore up Spitzer’s reform credentials even as he signed a budget that dramatically increased spending, and dressed up anodyne compromises as bold reforms. Now it appears that high-ranking members of Spitzer’s administration concocted a scheme to take out Bruno, his chief legislative antagonist. Spitzer’s team leaked state police records of Bruno’s frequent use of state planes and helicopters to the Albany Times Union.

After the New York Post exposed the role of the governor’s office in the leak (complete with a before-the-fact cover-up plan involving fake Freedom of Information Law requests and fast-changing stories from the governor’s office), new Attorney General Andrew Cuomo issued a report earlier this week that found Spitzer’s administration had abused state police records. Now Bruno is threatening Senate hearings on the matter, and to subpoena the governor. (In a potential countermove, the State Ethics Commission, which Spitzer functionally controls, yesterday announced plans for a probe of its own.)

Spitzer, a famous micromanager, is claiming that his closest aides launched a coordinated attack on his chief enemy without consulting him. (It’s just the sort of dubious claim he sneered at when a Wall Street CEO presented it to him.) Even Spitzer’s backers at the New York Times have been forced to play the story up, and the Times Union, which worked with him to publish the police records, editorialized that “It’s time for Governor Spitzer to come forward and start answering questions.”

Predictions that the scandal will force Spitzer from office are probably off the mark (unless Spitzer is caught lying about what he knew and when), but there’s no doubt the governor is badly damaged, and that his presidential aspirations are for the moment in tatters. The best thing he can do now for himself, and for the people of New York, is to return to the reform agenda he was elected to implement. More likely, though, we can anticipate another three years of a badly-damaged governor’s limping along, while Albany continues to legislate the Empire State’s decline.


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