Debate raged on the Senate floor last week as Republicans blasted Democrats for budget bills, written in secrecy, the GOP says will raise taxes and fees, even as the state suffers from one of the worst fiscal crises in decades.

The rehabilitation of Eliot Spitzer has begun. The former governor is showing up places, doing mea culpa interviews, writing an online column and getting out to social events. His line is consistent: he did bad, his wife is a wonderful and forgiving woman and his children are paramount. We know Spitzer is brilliant. His brains and dedication were such that according to many people, he was destined to take up occupancy in the White House. We know he has guts and he tried to challenge the corrupt state political system.

Paradoxically, we know that he personally challenged the very laws that he helped to create and in so doing let down a lot of people who had given up everything to follow him into state service. He certainly let down his family. This is the man who demanded that Johns in prostitution cases be brought before the law in much the same way as the women who serviced them. This is the man who wanted banks to report strange transactions like the ones that brought him down. And yet, when this shooting star went down in flames the state lost one of its last, best hopes. The fact that he chose David Paterson as his lieutenant governor shows that what works for a candidate doesn’t always work for the people. Paterson is funny, bright and compliant, yet he seems to be lost. That’s partly because some of those swimming in the political pool with him, like Senator Chuck Schumer and the legislative leaders, have thought more about what is good for them than what is good for the citizen! Didn’t Eliot know what he was choosing?

So the governor we all bet on has left us with a really broken system. Should he be given a second chance? Moses wasn’t allowed into the Promised Land because he had angered his God. Andrew Cuomo went through a painful public divorce and now seems to be a good bet to be governor. Teddy Kennedy drove a car off a bridge and a young woman died. Teddy was denied the presidency but became an American icon, believed in by millions because of his generosity of spirit and all around decency. There are conservative Republicans in the United States Senate who will tell you that despite the wide gulf that exists between their philosophies and those of the Massachusetts senator, they love and respect him and they did a lot of business with him, passing historic legislation. Like Teddy and Andrew, should Eliot be given a second chance, especially if he can do what so many other feckless politicians haven’t had the guts to do?

In the end it all goes to character. I just spoke of Teddy’s generosity of spirit. The question is, “What motivates Spitzer?” Many people have told me for years that my admiration for him was misplaced. They say it’s all about Eliot; that he is narcissistic beyond repair. Reserving all comment about the virtues, or lack thereof, that define Joe Bruno, the tainted former state Senate leader, Spitzer was a warrior. It seemed to be “My way or the highway” or “I’ll roll over you like a steamroller.” He became a vigilante of sorts, willing to do whatever he had to do to win and to install his vision.

A woman I know, who I greatly respect, loves Teddy and dislikes and distrusts Eliot. She points to all those people he let down. She dislikes his lean and mean approach. She says that both Eliot and Teddy were rich kids who were given everything. She believes both were womanizers and cheaters but, in the end, she says that Teddy was just, well, more human. As for me, I believe in second and third chances. I think that just as we are all flawed, there’s good in each of us. There are some, of course, who just have very little good in them and they deserve nothing. But Eliot, well, Eliot is a puzzle. He gave us a great deal as an attorney general. He had guts when he needed guts but he certainly had something in him that we didn’t expect. I’m for the underdog. I hope he has it in him to rise up and show all of us that he can make a contribution and that his trials were not for naught. I say, “Let him up.”

Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 4/3/09

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