Character is destiny, as the old saying goes. This is certainly true of soon to be ex-Governor Eliot Spitzer of New York.
Gov. Spitzer, whose meteoric rise in U.S. politics (there were even talks of his being the first Jewish President someday), was based on prosecuting white-collar crime and fraud in Wall Street, was brought down by his long-term involvement with a high-class call girl ring. He was a valued client, as it turns out, and spent an estimated U.S. $ 80,000.00 on the services of high-end prostitutes over a recent period. About the best thing that could be said about the whole sordid affair is he apparently did not use public funds to satisfy his habit, being independently wealthy and heir to a Manhattan real estate fortune.
Ironically, he officially took a hard stance (pun intended) on prostitution, having sought the enactment of what is reportedly the toughest and most comprehensive anti-sex-trade law in the nation. His novel approach: Go after the men who seek out prostitutes and punish them instead of the other way around. Well, I guess he got a taste of his own medicine.
His resignation came less than 48 hours after it emerged that he had been intercepted on a federal wiretap confirming plans to meet a call girl from a high-priced prostitution service, the cheesily-named Emperor’s Club VIP. He subsequently had a tryst with Kristen, an expensive and apparently happy hooker on Feb. 13 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. He reportedly spent $4,300 for a few hours with her. The resulting outcry forced him to make a public and humiliating admission of his transgressions, with his stricken wife by his side, and put an end to a promising political career, possibly forever.
The things men do to scratch an itch. But as Maureen Dowd observed:
If blood will have blood, as Shakespeare said in “Macbeth,” power will have sex.
It was certainly a matter of power for the former N.Y. Attorney General educated at Princeton and Harvard Law School. Despite having run on a platform of reform and high ethical standards in public office, he apparently saw no contradiction in the way he lived his public and private life, easily maintaining a dichotomy between what he ostensibly stood for and what he actually did. He had power, wealth and influence, and he probably thought the rules did not apply to him.
A self-styled alpha male, he is described by his detractors as ruthless and bullying. He was also unbelievably reckless, and his hubris and thrill-seeking led him to shop for sex through an Internet escort service, an incredibly risky way to go (or come, as the case may be). According to a former sex worker, escort services are the:
riskiest form of indoor prostitution I have ever experienced. Escort agencies are constantly being investigated, infiltrated and spied on.
The sense of betrayal among his constituents and supporters, and his family, is no doubt deep and lasting. Exposure of his duplicity cost him their trust and consequently, his ability to govern. But the American faith in public confession and ultimate redemption might yet work in his favor. Contrary to what F. Scott Fitzgerald said, there are second acts in American life, in the Age of Oprah. Already his colleagues, including his Harvard law professor and noted civil libertarian Alan Dershowitz, have spoken up in his defense. But the kindest summation came from a fellow former Attorney General from neighboring New Jersey, John Farmer, who said:
Now he must accept his loss in order to move on and find another way to make a difference. His intelligence and commitment give me confidence that someday he will. Resigning was the necessary first step.
We have more than our fair share of sanctimonious politicians who say one thing and do another. We can only pray that their comeuppance would be as swift and poetic as that of Mr. Spitzer.
Eminent sociologist Randy David explains how healthy government institutions will naturally work together to bring down the guilty high and mighty in his piece “When Institutions Work”.
Newsweek tries to explain the physiological and psychological reasons why Spitzer did what he did.
Infants have their infancy, adults, adultery, according to this interesting NYT piece on why faithfulness is a fantasy for most species.
What happens then ? A look at how the Americans deal with the aftermath of an affair.
The Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. has a colorful association with scandals among the power elite.
A blow by blow (!) account of Spitzer’s tryst with a tart.
According to some pundits, it is still important to separate Mr. Spitzer’s personal and political failings from the worthwhile things he did.
A thoughtful summation of the man and milieu, and how the political realities of Albany and his reaction to them may have brought about his downfall.