By Former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
The 49 percent of the electorate who voted for Eliot Spitzer to be New York City Comptroller in 2013 should send a thank you note to the 51 percent who did not. Spitzer in 2008 lost his position as governor through resignation following a prostitution scandal; lost his wife; and lost the respect of the citizens of New York. He should have learned his lesson… he did not. Last week, Spitzer was back on the front pages of the New York City newspapers responding to allegations that he spent a (very expensive) night at the Plaza Hotel with a prostitute and was accused of assaulting her. She has since left this country and returned to her homeland, Russia.
But this is not a story about prostitution. Personally I think that what goes on between consenting adults is their business and their business only, even if it is “business.” I have always thought it was odd that prostitution is only illegal if money changes hands. If it is not a commercial transaction, with no currency involved, then there is no crime. It is all very curious; the law I mean.
Nor is this a story about morality or fidelity. Mr. Spitzer has professed his love for another woman, his girlfriend since the divorce from his wife.
Whether what Mr. Spitzer is alleged to have done (again) is moral or not, or whether he has broken his vows and promises to yet another woman is beside the point. Far be it for me to condemn or condone. Rather this is a story about judgment and temperament.
For years before the personal mess of then Governor Spitzer came to light, he was known to have a real anger management problem and would burst into tirades or plot against those who disagreed with him or he perceived as political enemies. He lived his personal and political life recklessly. He alienated almost everyone along the way, and he demonstrated incredibly juvenile impulsiveness, seemingly oblivious to consequences. It cost him his marriage and his political career in Albany.
But five years later, after a period of seeming calm, Eliot Spitzer took another go at electoral politics running for New York City Comptroller. That is a job where maturity and judgment matters. He promised the voters that he was a changed man and that he could be trusted with the enormous financial responsibility of overseeing the city treasury. He almost won.
But last week Eliot Spitzer proved once again that he does not understand the consequences of his behavior. He does not understand that a public figure is always under scrutiny. As such he cannot possibly be entrusted with important civic responsibilities.
For me the story is not so much what Spitzer does in his personal life but the fact that he fails to comprehend or care that a public leader is held to a higher standard and that personal and private actions matter and impact your political standing. It is all about judgment. For such a smart guy, that simple truth which continues to elude him suggests larger problems indeed.
Eliot Spitzer was a bright light in politics once upon a time but he flamed out. The saddest thing is that he lit the fire.