Yesterday former New York governor Eliot Spitzer took to the airwaves and the streets to repeatedly ask for forgiveness so that he could get enough signatures to enter the race to become New York City‘s comptroller. “This is a land of second chances,” he told radio host Bill Press in the morning. “I think it is a land of forgiveness.”
“I think we all know, when you speak to people, there is forgiveness in the public,” he told CBS News.
“I have erred, I have sinned, I make no denial of that, I am asking for an opportunity to come back and serve,” he said on MSNBC. “Five years later, I think I can ask for forgiveness.”
Well, sorry, Spitzer, but I don’t think that I’m ready to forgive you, and after rereading the original criminal complaint against the four employees of the Emperors Club VIP, I’m not sure that I ever will be.
The Emperors Club VIP was the prostitution ring used by Spitzer, a former attorney general whose office busted prostitution rings because they’re illegal. In the complaint, Spitzer first appears as Client-9, a potentially problematic customer trying to book an appointment who “would not do traditional wire-transferring” and who is literally trying to tell the booking agent that the check is in the mail. But Emperors Club VIP has not received the payment. The agent asks Client-9 if he used a return mailing address on the package, and Client-9 says no. (He’s too smart for that!) The agent tries to make sure he used the correct name and address of the shell company, and Client-9 says, “Yup, same as in the past, no question about it,” as if he was haggling with a customer service rep over his ConEd bill.
Client-9 proceeds to call the agent five more times over the next 24 hours to debate how much credit he has with Emperors Club VIP (around $400 to $500) and to discuss the costs of transportation for “Kristen” from New York City to Washington, where he was staying at a hotel. The booker asks whether Spitzer could give “Kristen” extra funds at the appointment “in order to avoid payment issues in the future. Client-9 said maybe and that he would see if he could do that. [The booker] explained that … a deposit could be made so that he would have a credit, and they would not have to ‘go through this’ next time. Client-9 said perfect, and that he would call her regarding the room number.”
And on it goes, until 12:02 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 14, 2008, when “Kristen” calls the booker to report that Client-9 had left the hotel room. “Kristen” says that she liked him, and that she did not think he was difficult, although the booker says “that from what she had been told ‘he’ (believed to be a reference to Client-9) would ask you to do things that, like, you might not think were safe—you know—I mean that … very basic things.”
It’s not the extramarital sex (safe or not) that makes me think Spitzer’s not worthy to run for dogcatcher. It’s not the narcissism, the old the-rules-don’t-apply-to-me attitude that seems so symptomatic, or perhaps is a pre-existing condition, among our elected officials. What bothers me about Spitzer’s particular transgression—what sets it apart from those of the other fallen officials he’s being compared to—is that he is breaking the very laws he was entrusted to uphold. Not once. Not twice. Many times. That he was so cavalier about it, nonchalant even, only adds insult to injury.
It’s still unclear whether Spitzer was soliciting prostitutes when he was attorney general, although a 22-year-old woman told ABC News that he did, or whether the habit only began when he arrived at the governor’s office. I’m not sure which is worse, and I’m not sure it matters. Am I being naive? Perhaps. All I know is that like many New Yorkers, I loved Eliot Spitzer. I voted for Eliot Spitzer, repeatedly. I had friends who became prosecutors because of Eliot Spitzer, dedicated lawyers who may never look at public service the same way again.
Spitzer can do whatever he wants in private life. But he keeps urging the public to “look at his record,” at what he did while in office as attorney general and governor, and give him a second chance. I did what he asked. I looked again, and I do not think he gets to wipe the slate completely clean and start all over. Ironically, this seems to put me in the same camp with Wall Street moguls, many of whom hated Spitzer’s regulatory instincts, and Kristin Davis, the former head of an escort service, who is also running for comptroller. Strange bedfellows indeed. If only it were otherwise.