What We're Not Saying: Why I Miss Eliot Spitzer

Mar 18, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

Why are we still talking about Eliot Spitzer’s sex scandal?

The internet seemed to erupt in collective anger last week when Mr. Spitzer gave a speech on ethics at Harvard Law. Every New York paper took the opportunity to remind the public of the low-brow, obvious irony of Harvard’s pick: that Eliot Spitzer is a whore-mongering hypocrite, a disgraced Democratic Golden Boy, a public sociopath with little to no remorse about his crime.

Well, to me that’s not the angle they should be pursuing. They’re ignoring the moral of the Spitzer story: that we were perversely short-sighted with the way we handled Eliot Spitzer; that we prioritized our bloodlust for personal justice over our desire for effective public policy.

This was a missed opportunity for our news media to elevate the conversation on Eliot Spitzer’s legacy. Last week, I didn’t come across a single publication that talked about why he would have been picked for this speech. About how he banished the mob from the garment industry in Manhattan in the early 1990’s. Or about how he challenged Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns long before we realized how desperately the securities industry needed government regulation. Or about how he attacked AIG.

We seem to have forgotten that Spitzer was enormously effective, and had amazing foresight into the role of government in the private sector.

Albany, meanwhile, is struggling right now largely because of a drastic deficit of leadership, because of the inability of our impotent, wind-bag of a governor to tame the wilds of the State Senate, to reap fruits from a Democratic majority, or to secure votes for his policy.

While Eliot Spitzer gave his unpopular and derided ethics speech, David Paterson, in a terrifying display of exasperation and futility, called the Senate for a special session to approve his budget plan, on which he couldn’t inspire them to vote. No, instead, the Democrats and Republicans bickered, and the Democrats bickered amongst themselves. Now, he’s implying he’ll abandon any principles he may have imbued into his plan. Imagine what his leadership would look like without a Senate Majority.

While Eliot Spitzer was being lambasted by our press last week, Paterson was pushing a gay marriage bill to the Senate Floor prematurely, with the hopes of securing some concrete and tangible achievement for his abysmal reputation. For the sake of his legacy and his election bid, he’s rushing the legislation to the floor without securing necessary votes, at a time of Democratic disunity. If it passes, it would be in spite of his work, not because of it.

I understand that Eliot Spitzer’s hypocrisy was tasteless, unethical; not fitting of an elected official. It's just that I don’t care about it anymore. I'm not sure I ever did. We traded an effective, intelligent, and proactive leader for a weak and useless figurehead. I hope that next time one of our elected officials gets caught with his pants down, we remember this trade-off, reap some kind of lesson from this disaster.

I hope that next time we face down a sex-scandal, we take a deep breath and probe into what decision will best benefit our state and city, what decision will best balance accountability and necessity. Based on last weeks coverage of his Harvard speech, I don't think we've learned much.

The way I see it, Eliot Spitzer committed only one monumental crime against New York State: leaving us with David Paterson as governor.