Thanks to twelve years of Republican Governor George Pataki’s insouciant leadership, in November 2006 New Yorkers gave Democrat Eliot Spitzer 69% of their votes — the largest majority in the state’s history.
Running as a centrist, Spitzer supported fiscal restraint, no new taxes, charter schools and pledged that “day one everything changes.”
In January, plenty changed but not for the best; Governor Spitzer discarded his cloak of moderation, relentlessly pursued a radical liberal agenda and proved to be a blustering bully.
The governor’s first budget proposal called for state spending to increase 7.8%, three times the inflation rate. Spitzer, who as New York’s Attorney General was known as the “scourge of Wall Street,” now cowered to the state legislature’s old guard and settled for a whopping 9% jump in expenditures to get a budget passed by the April 1st deadline.
Spitzer, the tough guy who promised to open the budget negotiating process, was mugged behind the capital’s closed doors. His sham “reform” budget contained billions for special interests, pork for legislators, entitlements for unions and the health care cartel. The Division of Budget analysis of the spending plan projected out-year deficits of $3.3 billion in 2008, $5.5 billion 2009 and $7.3 billion in 2010.
Reviewing this fiscal mess, Republican Assembly leader, James Tedisco, concluded: “The record $122 billion budget spends too much, borrows too much, taxes too much and reforms too little.”
In his first months in office, Spitzer also moved to implement his leftist cultural agenda.
Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the partial birth abortion ban, the governor announced he was introducing legislation “to enshrine the protections of Roe v. Wade into New York State law.” “Even if the Supreme Court does not understand the law, we do,” Spitzer declared. “New York will continue to be a beacon of civil rights and protector of women’s rights.”
On April 27, Governor Spitzer proposed legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. Referring to gay-marriage as a “simple moral imperative,” he described his stand as a “statement of principle that I believe in, and I want to begin that dynamic.”
During his two terms as New York’s Attorney General, Spitzer’s self-righteous bullying and uncontrollable temper were legendary. On one occasion he told former General Electric C.E.O. Jack Welch that “he’s going to put a spike through [New York Stock Exchange Director Kenneth Langone’s] heart.” John Whitehead, former Goldman Sachs Chairman wrote in a December 2005 Wall Street Journal op-ed that Spitzer threatened him after he publicly defended insurance mogul Hank Greenburg. According to Whitehead, Spitzer said “You will pay dearly for what you have done. You will wish you had never written that letter.”
Since taking over as New York’s chief executive, Spitzer’s name calling, swearing and temper tantrums have frequently made front page headlines. When Assemblyman Tedisco dared to question a Spitzer proposal, the governor described himself as a “f—ing steamroller” who would flatten anyone in his way. He told Orange County Senator, William Larkin he’d “cut [his] head off.” And when Senate Republican Majority Leader, Joe Bruno, recommended a grand jury investigation into allegations that the state police was used to spy on him, Spitzer called the 78-year old Bruno “an old senile piece of s— who is under federal investigation.”
Miffed because the state legislature doesn’t bow to his commands, Spitzer recently proclaimed he just won’t deal with them anymore. “There is an unbelievable opportunity now,” he said, “to govern through the agencies, and that’s frankly what I’m really looking forward to.”
Spitzer is taking a page from the playbook of his famous predecessor, Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who led the pack in finding ways to get around voter disapproval of spending schemes. Rockefeller created a shadow government in the form of authorities and agencies that spent billions outside the state budget and without the approval or control of either the legislature or the voters. Now Governor Spitzer, who promised a transparent government, is retreating to these big-government murky mazes to impose his will on the populace.
Spitzer’s “no-holds-barred” approach to governing has been adopted by his staffers. These “best and the brightest” believe that bare-knuckle tactics are permissible against perceived Albany obstructionists who in their judgment are dumb, wrong or evil. This brazen attitude has given rise to abuse of power scandals that are wrecking the seven-month old administration.
In April, the Governor’s Deputy Secretary for Energy, Steven Mitnick, was accused of threatening a New York State Public Service Commissioner over a policy disagreement. With the expected release of a critical Inspector General’s report, Mitnick resigned his post on Friday, August 4, 2007.
In July, State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo released a blockbuster report detailing the governor’s top aides misuse of the state police when attempting to destroy Senator Bruno with manufactured documents claiming he broke state law.
Although the governor denied any knowledge of the plot, claimed his office cooperated with investigators, punished the culprits, and in a New York Times op-ed apologized for violations of his pledge “to maintain the highest ethical standards,” Albany pundits do not believe Spitzer is in the clear.
Doubts of Spitzer’s innocence increased when it was revealed that the governor’s Chief of Staff Richard Baum and one of the conspirators, suspended Communications Director Darren Dopp, refused to be interviewed by the Attorney General’s office. (The A.G. does not have subpoena power, hence they could not be compelled to testify.)
For weeks Spitzer has been stonewalling the press, refusing to explain why he did not direct his aides to testify, and giving dubious legalistic rationales as to why special prosecutors and senate investigators should not be empanelled to subpoena the governor and his aides.
Few, however, are buying the Spitzer tap dance. The New York Post’s Fred Dicker has described Troopergate as “a ten in terms of Albany scandals” and says it is “the biggest political scandal in modern New York history involving the governor and his office.”
New York Daily News liberal columnist, Michael Goodwin, called for a grand jury investigation and bluntly stated: “I believe Eliot Spitzer not only knew about the scheme, I believe he approved it and maybe even ordered it.”
Eliot Spitzer’s woes are far from over. On August 1, 2007, Albany County District Attorney David Soares ordered a criminal investigation into Troopergate. And his administration is expected to be paralyzed for months answering subpoenas from up to four separate inquiries into the misconduct charges.
In 2005, when discussing his soccer playing days, Spitzer made this revealing comment: “You play hard, you play rough, and hopefully you don’t get caught.” Governor Spitzer has certainly played hard and rough politics but like the “best and the brightest” of the 1960s, he too might be caught up in a quagmire from which there is no escape.