A number of New York crooks and their lawyers could be forgiven for indulging in a little schadenfreude last night at Governor Spitzer's oblique confession to having consorted with a prostitute. After picking up glittering prizes at Princeton and Harvard, the governor set out on a brilliant legal career in which he liked to pose as a combination of Mob buster Eliot Ness and class warrior Robin Hood. Time magazine even named him "Crusader of the Year."
From the start, Mr. Spitzer seemed to be as good as his word. In his eight years as attorney general of New York he enjoyed a great number of successes rooting out wickedness and wrongdoing, and he happily accepted the lavish tributes to his genius when criminals went to jail. If sometimes his zeal in bringing financial manipulators to book seemed unnecessarily brutal, for the most part he proved to be an ingenious prosecutor, looking beyond obvious arguments to ensure convictions.
When he prosecuted members of the Gambino family, whom he believed to be involved in racketeering in the garment industry in New York City, he was content with nailing them on an antitrust charge. Like Eliot Ness's case against Al Capone, the important thing was not so much the nature of the charge but to ensure that justice was done.
Mr. Spitzer successfully traded his reputation as an incorruptible champion of the law for the governorship of New York. Although the first 15 months of his reign proved stormy, with the governor too often ruling with a heavy hand and turning personal disagreements into vicious vendettas, there are few who imagined that behind his saintly visage and crusaders' armor was a first class cad and hypocrite.
Governor Spitzer's lofty public demeanor, it turns out, was a sham. Among his many achievements as attorney general was to bring to an abrupt end two prostitution rings, including one on Staten Island. Yesterday the governor admitted at a hastily called press conference that he had failed to live up to his promises and had disappointed himself, the voters of New York, his wife Silda, and his family. With his wife dutifully at his side, he could not bring himself to confess exactly what he was apologizing for.
It is little wonder he was so shamefaced. Yesterday he appeared in a tawdry cameo role as "client nine" in a federal case against an international brothel cartel in which it is said he handed over $4,600 last month for two-and-a half hours of sex with a five foot five 105 pound brunette in a room in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. Notwithstanding the governor's persistent claim to be incorruptible, the case showed him to be a wife cheater, a double dealer, and a rat.
Unlike the usual bedroom farces which make up most political sex scandals, however, this time Mr. Spitzer cannot claim that no one was harmed by his activities. There were many victims of Mr. Spitzer's crime, although he may claim that "Kristen," the woman supplied by the Emperors Club VIP, was a willing victim. It is telling that "Kristen," though perhaps the first, was certainly not intended to be his last paid partner, as he paid her extra cash on account for a subsequent session with another woman.
Beyond "Kristen," there were many victims whose names we will never know. Prostitution organized on such a large scale is invariably founded upon and backed by organized crime, whose anonymous victims Mr. Spitzer knows to be legion.
Just as important, perhaps, is that Mr. Spitzer has allowed his wife and three daughters to become victims of his foolhardy behavior. He did not even spare his elegant wife the public humiliation yesterday of standing by her wretched man as he made his hurried exit from the public stage.
It has become an unseemly ritual of such televised embarrassing moments, from the self outing as a homosexual of Governor McGreevey of New Jersey to the men's room trolling of Senator Craig, that loyal wives are expected to stand witness as their husbands reveal their longstanding domestic arrangements to have been a fraud.
There are other victims of Mr. Spitzer's two-and-a-half hours of indiscretion, among them his close friend Senator Clinton. The governor is a staunch supporter of Mrs. Clinton and, through his position as governor of New York, a superdelegate at the Democratic convention in Denver in August.
Mr. Spitzer's public shame yesterday will hardly back her campaign's argument that such distinguished ex officio delegates, who mostly support her, should be allowed to overrule the democratic will of the party's registered voters, who tend to back Senator Obama. Nor can Mrs. Clinton be pleased that Mr. Spitzer has brought the issue of marital infidelity so spectacularly to the fore.
One person could perhaps afford, at least in private, to spot a silver lining in Mr. Spitzer's discomfort: Mayor Bloomberg. With the mayor's presidential ambitions put on hold and his sights now set on Albany, Mr. Spitzer's fall will inevitably boost the mayor's chances if, as expected, he decides to run for governor in 2010. Mr. Spitzer was already looking vulnerable as his negative poll ratings outweighed his positives, but "Kristen" will have played a pivotal part in spinning the whirligig of fate if the mayor is elected governor.