Opinion

ABS means ‘Anybody But Spitzer’

eliot_spitzer
Eliot Spitzer

Eliot Spitzer, the consummate king of abusing the powers of public office, now wants New York City voters to forgive him for his near-criminal misdeeds. He’s running for city comptroller, and he wants the race to be about “forgiveness.”

To my friends in New York, this isn’t a question of forgiveness. It’s a question about the utter stupidity of giving political power back to a man who disgraced himself with low-life contemptible behavior, both as governor and attorney general of New York. He’s a proven abuser, and those kinds of sordid political tigers don’t change their stripes.

Forgiveness? Spitzer is like those unethical people we all know who cheat and lie all week long, then go to church and ask forgiveness, only to repeat their misdeeds the next week. One of the last people on Earth who should be allowed to handle public money or be given subpoena power is Eliot Spitzer. He’s a power fanatic who used the authority of two public offices to pave his personal career path and to fulfill his political ambitions by destroying people. And I’m not referring to the revelations about him in 2008, when he funneled serious dough to pimps and prostitutes, causing his abrupt resignation as New York governor.

No, the problem with this man is his abuse of power and his eagerness to crush people. As attorney general, he rewarded his friends and prosecuted his enemies. With evangelical fervor, he hunted down companies and top corporate executives with a vengeance, costing their shareholders plenty. Almost nobody lost money from the alleged crimes he prosecuted, but shareholders lost tons of wealth because of his vendettas.

This is a prosecutor who engaged in the despicable practice of trying his cases in the media, also known as “government by press release.” He was the poster child for the excesses of prosecutorial zeal. Spitzer’s business-bashing presentations to the media didn’t often stand up in the courtroom, where the accused is entitled to be tried.

But even worse, almost no one in the mainstream media challenged his hand or exposed him. They engaged in massive looking-the-other-way, as this headline-grabber cut his swath of reputation destruction. Eager to publicize his bilge, the “press corps largely adored” Spitzer, according to The Wall Street Journal, and “profited from his leaked smears.”

Hank Greenberg AIG
Hank Greenberg
Photo Credit: Bloomberg.com

Unethical prosecutors can try a case in the media without being shackled by pesky court rules, and Spitzer was among the slickest at it. But he was far less successful in the courts, where appellate judges later vacated several of his big felony convictions.

He accused AIG CEO Hank Greenberg of criminal fraud on television, but never filed a criminal case and later quietly dropped most of the state’s civil suit against him. Spitzer’s arrogance and intrusiveness had him demanding that three public companies fire their CEOs under the threat of the release of damaging investigation details, causing company stock prices to plunge.

There is only one reason why New York City voters could rationally elect Spitzer: They would have to believe his electability to public office offsets his personal dishonesty and destructive behavior — that winning is more important than integrity. In Spitzer’s case, there is no evidence whatsoever that he won’t go right back to abusing the same discretionary power that previously violated the public trust. New York voters would do well to remember this man’s prior dealings. They would also do well to follow the ABS Rule: Anybody But Spitzer.

Predators don’t always lurk in the dark depths of wild places, or in the ocean deep. Sometimes they walk among us.

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John R. Smith

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