Get Spitzer back in the game

I recently had a chance to speak with Eliot Spitzer, certainly one of the brightest men I know who, by his own admission, made a colossal personal mistake that took him out of the political game. Too bad for us. Considering the crop of dummies, semi-crooks, real crooks, slashers and unethical sheep-like zombies raising their hands on cue, Spitzer was an extraordinarily bright light. Unlike the others, he did not betray the public trust. He betrayed his family and is in the midst of fixing that. Half of the marriages in America fail because of situations like this. Ironically, Spitzer’s marriage is alive and well and apparently thriving. His wife loves him and his kids love him. He got caught. Even my own wife says that monogamy is overrated.

Under normal circumstances, I would not write this column and take the abuse that will inevitably come my way, but we are in real trouble in this state and in this country. We need great minds to help us through these very dark times. Yes, Spitzer got himself into a mess but I have always believed that every intolerable situation brings with it an opportunity. Spitzer told me he would not run for any political office although his name seems to come around more and more frequently. Someone ought to insist that he serve.

Most people think that if we do ethics reform or fiscal reform or trade reform, we can save ourselves. Spitzer sees the big picture. He understands that we are doomed unless we figure out a few things — we have to fix the greed of Wall Street; we have to change the unethical behavior of politicians who are milking the present system dry by enriching themselves first and the public last; we must understand international trade, the banking system and its greed, and the role of the Chinese who own this country.

Spitzer has the Horace Mann, Princeton, Harvard-trained mind that can put all the moving parts together. He can look at the macro and the micro and deal with the individual parts as well as the way in which they fit together. Ask yourself which contemporary politician can do that. Is it, for example, Kirsten Gillibrand or her major sponsor, Chuck Schumer?

Don’t be silly. Schumer is a brilliant mind and a brilliant political tactician. He is not, however, a long-term thinker. He knows how to get people elected and if you are a Democrat, you might have to thank him for that. It would appear that he may well turn out to be the Senate majority leader, one of the most powerful men in the country and in the world. Gillibrand is his “second vote” and everyone knows it. When I asked Eliot Spitzer about Gillibrand, he made it clear that her appointment was a major mistake. He faulted his hand-picked successor, David Paterson, for appointing her. Gillibrand is not a political heavyweight — far from it — and Spitzer said so. He used words that add up to “opportunist.” She would be much more effective if her thinking about public policy was commensurate with her ambition. He said that he wouldn’t have appointed Gillibrand. He thinks it was wrong of the White House, confronted by incredible problems, to start to dabble in state and local politics. Better Obama should listen to Spitzer and less to Rahm Emanuel.

Primaries are the centerpieces of American democracy. President Obama knows that he got his Senate seat that way. When the people vote they pick the strongest candidates. If the White House and the powerful senators like Schumer break the bones of anyone trying to run in a primary, they are perverting democracy. That starts to come down to what killed the political cat and so many other politicians — arrogance.

Spitzer knows it just like so many in our congressional delegation know it. There is no secret here. Many of them wanted to run and had their political bones broken to prevent them from running.

I don’t know who will put a fine mind like Spitzer back into the game but someone ought to. We need him a lot more than he needs us. Things are now going from bad to worse and someone ought to put the coffee back on the stove so that we can smell it.

Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 1/11/10

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12 Comments on “Get Spitzer back in the game”

  1. Roger Stone Says:

    Wrong -Spitzer broke federal money laundering laws and violated the Mann Act – importing a hooker over state lines for his pleaure. no this is NOT a old rarely enofroced racist law- a New York State Supreme Court Justice went to jail for violating it in 2009.

    Spitzer also abused power as both Governor and Attorney General, using the state police to spy on his political opponents then lying about it Nixon-style- refusing to release e-mails or let aides testify in Investigations by the other branches of government. Now he wants full disclosure for AIG.

    A great Attorney General? The Madoff scandal happened under his nose but then Bernie Spitzer, his dad was a buddy of Bernie Madoff. The NY Pension fund scandal?
    Eliot didnt know his fellow Democrat Alan Hevesi and his pals were looting the place.

    But then Eliot did nail Ken Langone, Hank Greenberg and Ken Grasso…oops! That didnt work out to well

    Enough with Eliot Spitzer already.

    Roger Stone

    learn more

  2. truth in advertising Says:

    Alan, I am shocked at best. I can understand frustration over the current situation and the lack of apparent leadership both on the state and national levels. I’m not going to address Obama’s shortcomings here as this is more about New York. However, I can say that I really do not want the President talking to Spitzer about anything….

    The “big picture” is really not all that difficult to understand, from either side of the aisle. Changing that picture is the problem because the solutions are dramatically different depending on party. Point A to Point B is the issue here. The only sure bet in this State is the Assembly. If the Speaker says it is so, it is. But one house is not going to bring on change.

    If you may recall, when Spitzer was in office, he ruled with a heavy hand that was not at all diplomatic or interested in compromise. He and his staff were clumsy and accomplished very little. His time as AG was similar but more productive. It was easier for him there as negotiation and compromise didn’t necessarily have to be part of the answer.

    Elliot Spitzer is in the boat that he’s in because of vanity, pure and simple. If it wasn’t a prostitute, it would have been something similar. What he did required a total lack of understanding (or caring) of what it would do to his family or his supporters. It was always about him. I’m glad he is on his way to healing his relationship with his wife and kids. I really don’t think most relationships would handle that level of humiliation. And in my book (a very liberal one it is), monogamy is by no means over-rated because it is really about the partnership and who’s got your back.

    In my heart, good riddance to him. Go write a book. I’d like to see him impress me with his understanding of public policy or even political science on some theoretical level before he is allowed to play with my tax dollars again.

    In the meantime, I think we should keep looking for that leader that can implement. They are out there, but they might not even know it….

  3. Jay Nelson--New Paltz Says:

    Alan–I can’t believe you’re subjecting us to Eliot Spitzer in ARs time slot. Ha Ha. In answer to you’re question on the air of EVER voting for Spitzer. NEVER EVER as far as I can foresee. He’s got nerve challenging Gillebrand’s intellect and I’m sorry I am not up to speed on her on some of the issues. She’s good on farmers, right? What do you have on her to constantly be running her down as if she’s not adequate? Why don’t you lay all that out honestly for your listeners? She seems to be honest and working for the people. That’s more than I can see to say for your boy Spitzer. Do you like Hinchey on guns? Is that something he really believes or does to help get elected in his district. Jay

  4. Jay Nelson--New Paltz Says:

    I couldn’t go on so I will. As a PS, I’ve always been with you on Herb London however if you listen to his commentary of last Wednesday he has gone off into wackoville. In commenting about Obama’s cultural policies or beliefs(I was only slightly paying attention) he compared them to the “ghosts of Himler” at the end. That I couldn’t miss or believe. He is on par with all those who want to character assassinate Obama and retake power by an means necessary including lying and exaggerating. Jay

  5. Michelle Higgins Says:

    Hello Alan,

    Excellent interivew with Governor Spitzer; I looked forward to it all day. He is brilliant and I would like to see him ‘back in the game’ as you say; whether as an elected official or in a consulting or posted capacity where he would really make a difference and be happy.

    Now that he is ‘out of the closet’, a portal that WAMC must be proud to offer, as he needed someone of intelligence to trust with his first real foray since the resignation, I do hope he will be able to refer to Governor Paterson as such, not as ‘David’. This is a small comment but I felt he just could not get the words out of his mouth in the interview. I have to admit, although I share your wife’s view of monogamy, I felt nausous when he spoke of his family and do not feel he has taken responsibility. That’s not a problem as it’s his politics we want and when he got to that point in the interview, he was brilliant.

    As to Kirstan Gillibrand, I find my biggest problem with her is that she introduces too many bills and then we never hear another thing; she does the research, makes the speech and then it’s over. However, I believe she is involved in the dairy industry initiative and is doing well. Also, while she photgraphs badly, she is excellent on her feet on radio, in person and on television and I think it is why she has come as far as she has today. I agree with someone who said on WAMC yesterday, ‘would it not be better for NY to have someone of the equal strength of Schumer in the Senate?’ She is nowhere near the calibre of Hillary Clinton, I don’t know who said that yesterday but they are not close. Perhaps we could have Gillibrand and also Schumer on the radio soon.

    Well done Alan, the whole state took notice of your interview and the spinoffs, you did Governor Spitzer the favor of getting it all out in the open and now we can all move forward with him.


  6. Bruce Moseley Says:

    I was at work and heard only parts of the interview but am looking forward to being able to hear it in its entirety on line or via podcast.

    I will grant you that Spitzer is smart and that personal failings should not disqualify an individual for public. Nevertheless, I have to disagree with you about Mr. Spitzer’s future.

    I think that the governor and former attorney general crossed the line when he arrogantly transgressed the law. Prostitution is a crime and all to often the man gets a pass. I have to disagree and say that Spitzer did betray the public trust.

    Trust matters and he has lost mine. He might be able to contribute in an advisory role but I sincerely hope that he does not seek elected office again.

    Thank you.

  7. Paul Says:

    While I won’t argue that Eliot is a smart guy with interesting ideas, it dissapoints me (as a memember of WAMC) that you are making such a big deal about this guy and interview. He was such a a dissapointment, and let down many New Yorkers, including myself.

    My main problem with Elliot is that he engaged in illegal activities (hiring a prostitute). This is not only a personal misdeed, but Illegal. It is also totally arrogant. The Governer of NY, and former AG, should NOT be engaged in illegal activities under any circumstances. I feel It does tell alot about his character. He knew this was wrong an illegal. That is just Pure Arrogance.

    While I enjoy WAMC, I was very saddened by the attention spent on Elliot. There are many more indivuduals with bright ideas worthy of our admiration and praise.

  8. wilson Says:

    Is it appropriate for an NPR host to write such biased articles? I don’t think so. N

  9. Noel Hanf Says:

    In his blog, Alan said “Primaries are the centerpiece of American democracy.” In the portion of the Spitzer interview I heard broadcast, I thought he went even further and referred to the founders of the republic. Both his written and broadcast comments seem inaccurate, because until 1913 U.S. Senators were chosen by state legislatures, not by direct election by the people. See Article I, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, in effect until the 17th Amendment.

    I suppose if Alan wants to oppose Senator Gillibrand, that is his right, but his stated reasons don’t seem persuasive, and getting Eliott Spitzer to say that he would never have appointed Senator Gillibrand to the Senate doesn’t add much weight to the opposition, given Mr. Spitzer’s demonstrated lack of judgment.

  10. R. Decker Says:

    I do not have a problem with Kirsten Gillibrand as I believe she may very well represent upstate issues that a more liberal downstate Dem might have difficulty with. At the same time, I totally agree that Elliot Spitzer should be a part of the larger picture, and it occurred to me several weeks ago that he would be perfect as an Obama appointee investigating the financial mess that Wall Street perpetrated on the American people (~’Elliot Ness for the Wall Street Gangsters’).

  11. PETER C. GERDINE Says:

    To say I disagree with your dismissal of Kirsten Gillibrand as a “weak” candidate, and your effusive praise of Eliott Spitzer as someone whose comments about New York politics are to be taken seriously would be an understatement!
    All I can say, as far as your negative view of Senator Gillibrand, is: Where’s the beef? I talk to voters in Gillibrand’s district, they are, admittedly, liberal, but they are strong supporters, and they vote! Also give money! What grassroots support in the state, much less that district, does Harold Ford have? Okay, anyone running for statewide office has to have support beyond one congressional district, but in a primary, don’t activists’ support count for something? My impression is that Spitzer, as well as Blumberg (And I like both of them), have a personal agenda going against Gillibrand, whether based on the Caroline Kennedy fiasco or some other issue, more so than calm, cool, analytical consideration. My impression is also that Ford’s support is mostly downstate, i.e. New York City, and that he would need a road map to find any place upstate (Kind of like ex-Governor Pataki, whose opinion counts for absolutely zilch, as far as I am concerned!). I don’t argue that you should not have interviewed Spitzer, as some have done, it’s a free country and Spitzer is an interesting guy and has a lot to say, and you are an excellent interviewer. That said, you need to provide more context for your assertion that Gillibrand is “weak”, beyond what a few downstate politicians have been saying, whether Ford were a factor in the upcoming primary or not.

  12. PETER C. GERDINE Says:

    From Dan Collins, in re Harold Ford’s possible challenge of Sen. Gillibrand, in a recent Huffington Post (

    The real disqualifier is, of all things, Ford’s positions on the issues. Like Gillibrand, who previously represented a rather conservative upstate district, Ford was a House member who was as liberal as he thought he could get away with. On abortion, he managed to infuriate both the National Right to Life Committee and the National Abortion Rights Action League. But he went through several campaigns in Tennessee insisting he was “pro-life.”

    He voted for the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. His record on gun control is far more conservative than Gillibrand’s, who was hounded endlessly about her former coziness with the National Rifle Association when she took over Hillary Clinton’s seat. And Gillbrand will have had nearly two years of doing penance by election time.

    You can’t run against an incumbent with the slogan: “Vote for me, I’m a more fascinating personality.” Gillibrand’s weak spot had always been that she shifted to the left only when it suited her political needs. But she shifted with extreme ardor. And she was not as far to the right as Ford to begin with. It’s hard to conceive how he could pull the trick off.

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