Eliot and I

I was in a meeting today when Spitzer resigned, and I’m glad. I think it would have been too sad to watch. So many hopes were pinned on him. He seemed to embody everything that was good and great about New York. It didn’t matter what part of the state you were from; he was supposed to be an Uber-Governor, the Great Reformer who would vanquish the Boss, and every tough word made voters’ hearts thrill a little bit – even when he seemed to be down. Spitzer was going to scatter the wrongdoers with his mighty arm, and New York was going to come back and be great again.

He and the people of New York had an understanding, one that was going to elevate both him and us. How rare and special that kind of understanding is. Or was. Or wasn’t.

Now that he’s gone, it’s not just a political career that has been ruined, not just an individual’s ego perhaps deflated, but in a way, the self-perception of New Yorkers as leaders and progressives may have deflated a little, as well. (I mean “progressive” in the old-fashioned sense it was used in the 19th century — industrially as well as socially.) This is why Spitzer was elected so handily. He didn’t have to make speeches or really sell himself: he himself was the speech.

Even before Monday’s bombshell, it was clear that things weren’t working out as everyone had hoped. There was last year’s Choppergate ethics scandal, and all of the infuriating political shenanigans attached; and his failure with the immigrant licensing issue. Those were the big things, but there were so many little things that went wrong, or off tracks, or just… “off.” I think back hard for a high point. State of the Upstate speech?

Initially, in 2005, it was Tom Suozzi who attracted my interest as a potential candidate for governor, even though Spitzer was already being highly touted, with even Chuck Schumer stepping out of his way. It was Suozzi, however, who had seized the issue of reform (in his clumsy way) early on. In any other year, Suozzi would have been a formidable candidate. He was too much in bed with the Conservative Party for my tastes, and had his own ethical baggage, but when he decided to primary Spitzer, I thought it was good. The richness and depth of New York’s political field offered ample opportunity for Spitzer to sharpen his all-important message and focus on the state’s tremendous problems before he even entered office. Suozzi’s presence in the race could only help shape Spitzer’s future greatness.

But Spitzer persistently refused to debate Suozzi, only giving in after Suozzi just wouldn’t drop it. After all, what did Spitzer need with debates when his poll numbers were so overwhelmingly secure? Upstaters only got to see one of these debates – at least, one that involved both candidates. It was a disappointment, and I consoled myself by voting for Suozzi and pretending I was sending Spitzer a little message. Cute, I know. But Spitzer was not the kind of guy who was capable of sensing such faint messages from the hinterlands. When it came to matters not involving political pugilism, he apparently lived by the poll, even when he could have lived a fuller political life past them. (He died by them, too.)

When Spitzer was due to choose a running mate, there was some idea that he might choose a woman, or maybe even an Upstater for balance. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was a tantalizing possibility. But not only did he not pick an Upstater, his choice was (to me) doubly puzzling and disappointing. Why would he steal away Dave Paterson from the Senate? Paterson was supposed to become our Majority Leader, the successor to Bruno in the epic battle that Spitzer would personally lead on a white charger. Later, I understood why. It was more about positioning Paterson to be appointed to Hillary Clinton’s job in 2008, once Hillary won the presidency, as she no doubt handily would. All ducks neatly in a row. The great work of a hero, it appeared, didn’t have anything to do with our little hopes for symbolic acknowledgement.

When Spitzer was elected, up went a transition website soliciting resumes from hopefuls all across New York. It was to reach out in a bipartisan manner to people from all over the state and even the country, in hopes of breaking Albany’s hold on such jobs. But the website’s submission form, apparently cribbed in haste from another website, also had a field for “Where would you be willing to relocate to…” with India and North Carolina as some of the choices. Those of us who noticed it had a good laugh, but…

Spitzer also had another website. It was called Spitzer 2010. What about Spitzer Today? I recall wondering.

I remember attending a Spitzer speech on saving cities, before the election. I was trying to get a feel for his ideas and rhetoric, what sort of inspiring inaugural speech he might give us, what grasp of imagery he had, what fresh ideas for Syracuse he might have. It felt like a very wonky speech, without much new in it. I thought this was just a style we would have to get used to, and wait and watch harder for the breaks of light in the rhetorical clouds. But those breaks of light never really came.

Spitzer, as governor, made the rounds of Upstate cities and to Syracuse. What ideas would he bring with him beyond the usual promises of aid and gifts? What was our role in his master plan? But nothing new was unveiled; he just met with local movers and shakers, proclaimed their pre-existing plans good — plans that didn’t always enthuse local alternative thinkers. “Right… carry on.” He also hired an “Upstate Czar,” something which appeared to be a good idea, and still does I suppose (I wonder what will become of Dan Gundersen now?). But I couldn’t help feeling that whenever Spitzer came here, he was not really paying attention. Of course he couldn’t; this is a huge state; but…

And the little disappointments unfolded against a constant state of war.

Hope after hope, continued waiting and hoping, and little disappointments here and there. And questions floating in, vague wonderings if Spitzer really “got it.” Of course he did. How could he not? All one needed to do was wait just a little while longer.

We had an understanding, Eliot and I.

10 Replies to “Eliot and I”

  1. It’s never a good idea to pin so much hope on one man. Especially when you are upstate and the guy who’s governor is a downstater through and through.

  2. I understand EXACTLY how you feel NYCO. The problem was that all of us were looking for someone to lead us out of the wilderness…instead we found out that the certain someone we were looking for is US.

    Seriously — Spitzer getting shot down only means that we need to get down and do all of this together.

    IMO this possibility is what David Patterson can bring Upstate and Downstate …….and like OBAMA says — Si se puede — YES WE CAN!

  3. my feelings on spitzer during the campaign were much the same: i never thought he got it about upstate in the deepest way. a major part of the problem up here for decades upon decades has often been dysfunctional local leadership, leadership that went to albany looking for scoops of cash for afiled ideas, leadership that accounted for much of the cynicism in the public.

    i had hoped spitzer would speak directly past those leaders to the citizenry, rather than offering solutions as a kind of a more well-tuned version of what had come before, solutions channeled through the typical players. i’ve always dreamed, for instance, of a statewide leader coming here and saying something this simple: this region is spectacularly beautiful. why can’t you do a better job of cleaning up these roads and streets? and what can we do to help from albany? simple, but what a nerve it would strike.

    like everyone else, i saw the bruno episode as a needless, pointless and heartbreaking exercise in exactly the kind of backroom shenanigans people wanted gone from albany. but my hope was that it was an aberration, and this year’s ‘state of upstate’ speech left me with a delicate hope … we had heard nothing like it before, certainly.

    and now this. still, there is a quality about paterson when you read his quotes and statements that resonates with a sincerity you almost never find in politics … and maybe, after a couple years of slash-and-burn in albany, that’s exactly what we need.

    sean

  4. You can read some of Paterson’s answers in his press conference today.

    I think he intends to follow Spitzer’s agenda generally. Since only Spitzer has gone — not Spitzer’s mandate — he’d be a fool not to. And him mentioning Upstate losing jobs as the first item in one of his answers, I think, was a signal of that.

    Also — and I wish I could find the quote again — back when Paterson was still lining up to make an attempt to take the state Senate for the Dems, he commented about Upstate to the effect of, “I know what it’s like to feel like an outsider [because of his handicap], so I would never want to make Upstaters feel that way.”

    My feelings on Spitzer flip back and forth, but right now I’m just sad we’ve lost his energy and insights on… well, ethics in the financial world, for one. So much of what he had to say was absolutely sound, his own failings notwithstanding. It’s a loss to not to be able to draw on that any more. I find myself hoping, that after some time for circumspection has passed (years?), we can hear from him again from time to time, in the form of editorials or commentary on New York related issues. I’m still mourning the great Spitzer speeches we never got to hear. Maybe such speeches were never destined to be given even if he served out his term, but… it’s hard to let go of a dream.

    On the other hand, the other day I – and I think, others were desperately afraid that somehow he was going to cling to office successfully. You know how Albany goes. I can only think that, regardless of his unpopularity in the Legislature, that that Marist poll that came out on Tuesday (where 70% of New Yorkers wanted resignation, and another 66% – including 57% of Democrats – wanted impeachment if necessary) had some impact on the mood of whatever semi-allies he had left in the Assembly.

  5. I’m generally hopeful about Patterson, more socially liberal than the conservative technocrat Client 9. Patterson is certainly more able to be effective in dealing with legislators in a collegial way than the “it’s my way or the highway” Client 9.

    Sean, I think it’s futile to believe that state officials from outside the area are going to do anything but take advice from the people they view as the local leaders. To come in and insist that the people who have been elected locally don’t know what they are doing opens the state leaders up to charges that they think they know better than the locals–particularly damning if it opens up upstate/downstate fissures. It is also unrealistic for the state officials to publicly question the efficacy of a system that also got them elected. They believe in that system. We’ve got to get our own house in order.

    Ellen–don’t spend much time mourning for Client 9. I think the last year proved that he had pretty much run out of steam and didn’t have any idea on how to proceed. He was a policy wonk’s policy wonk, but had no idea how to get other people to work with him, a fatal flaw in a system that presupposes incremental change and compromise.

    I can’t tell you how much better I feel with the departure of Client 9 from power. A new day, a fresh breeze. Client 9 may have been the smartest guy in the room, but he never could resist the urge to rub everybody’s nose in that fact. So maybe he wasn’t all that smart anyway. Besides, Patterson is no intellectual slouch and he’s already proven he can tell a great joke (the prostitute/lobbyist riff at his press conference was priceless.)

    Chin up upstate. Things are looking up.

  6. Re lobbyists joke- that was an elegant response of his – 2 birds with one stone – defusing a tense embarrassing dumb question AND emphasizing reform…

  7. hey, phil:

    in my continuing effort to find lyrics that fit:

    Revolution 9
    (John Lennon, Paul McCartney)
    Lead Vocals: John Lennon, Yoko Ono and George Harrison

    [Bottle of Claret for you if I had realised…

    Well, do it next time.

    I forgot about it, George, I’m sorry.
    Will you forgive me?

    Yes.]

    Number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9
    Number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9
    Number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number…

  8. Check out this news article from the New Republic
    http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=c5005f31-237e-4f9d-bca1-891c7aa2b7b2

    I think there is more to learn about the investigation. How pure were the motives.

    I heard that now the charges can be felonies. This has to be a revenge thing. What happens to a lawyer when they are convicted of a felony? Can they still practice law?

    And where are all the other clients? When will we hear of their arrests? It had better be soon.

  9. I don’t think it can be assumed that the motives were all that pure. Unfortunately, the politician they targeted this time made it easy for them.

    If there is someone who was going after Spitzer, they will try to do it again with someone else, and eventually they will overreach themselves. Until then, hopefully someone with resources will keep this line of questioning open.

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