Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How Gov. Spitzer Was Elected, and How It's Coming Back To Haunt Him

I was recently asked a few questions about Gov. Spitzer: How was he elected by such a large margin? What was his platform? What was his reputation in NY before becoming Govenor?

The answers to all of these are intertwined, but I'll try to answer them with some context here. Spitzer, as the NYS Att'y Gen., was known as "the sheriff of Wall St." He "prosecuted" many high-profile CEO's and corporations, also making some forays into the richly corrupt area of NYS Medicaid fraud. I put "prosecuted" in quotation marks, because of the lesser-known stories, one of which has resurfaced of late. Spitzer is being hit with a lawsuit for $75 million, accusing the former AG with fraudulent prosecution. Here's an excerpt from Alex Ginsberg, reporting in the NY Post:

The lawsuit, filed last week in Brooklyn federal court, charges that Spitzer, who in 2006 was the attorney general and the Democratic front-runner in the primary battle for governor, was getting slammed as being soft on Medicaid fraud - and found a convenient fall guy.

Read the whole article for the particulars, but this was typical of Spitzer's style as AG. Often, he made decisions based on media exposure, instead of the facts, or law. What he did on Wall St. was called a "shakedown," by some, with good reason. It was less costly for many of these firms to settle than fight in court. He aslo strangely overlooked some high profile CEO's (Bob Rubin of Citibank, for one), prosecuting the lower-level employees instead. These were the unreported storylines, unless you're a regular NY Post reader (the Wall St. Jornal editorial page was another exception).

On the other hand...

It was a NYers dream come true, if you watched the MSM, or read the NY Times or NY Daily News. He made a national reputation as an anti-corporate crusader, and became very popular with not just rank-and-file Democrats, but many disaffected Republicans in NYS. He ran on this slogan: "Day one, everything changes," and promised to end "pay for play" politics.

This fed into many people's hope that he would turn his zealous prosecutorial skills on the pit of corruption that is Albany. It overrode all other issues of his "platform," because every NY pol, of either party, gives "lip service" to the typical liberal issues. After three terms, it was Republican Governor Pataki's turn to be mired in corruption, so deep that he flirted with running for President, while gracefully declining to run for re-election. This is apparently becoming a tradition in NY, with Spitzer replacing Pataki as "coming in on a white horse," much as Pataki did when he beat Democrat Gov. Cuomo twelve years earlier.

Alas, it's not the Governor's job to clean up the system that got him elected. The dashing of those hopes explains his unprecedented crashing poll numbers. Gov. Spitzer is a complicated man, or at least has complicated scandals to explain. He used the media in his political quest for the governorship, and made alot of enemies along the way. This lawsuit, while a minor story now, highlights how the people he stepped on can return the favor. The media may help destroy him, as well, if it sells. I hope this answers the three questions, with some context.

PS: It's important to note that NY is deep "blue" country, with Dems outnumbering the GOP signifigantly. The NY Republican party was (and still is) pretty much a "shadow organization," among rank-and-file Republicans, which made them easy pickings for Spitzer's media machine.

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