Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why Republicans Should Use Mass Transit More

Peter Elkind. Rough Justice: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer. New York: Penguin Group, 2010.

“Welcome to a Greek tragedy” were Spitzer’s words when his scandal with a prostitute became know. The wealthy Governor, living in a $17,000 a month apartment in Manhattan, was the son of a real estate businessman. He had been a famous prosecutor with notable cases against Wall Street operations and even prostitution services. There are some suspicions that his downfall may have been assisted by someone seeking revenge.

Elliot’s father, Bernie Spitzer, was quoted as stating “I play to kill” and fought authority throughout his career. His friends state Bernie raised Eliot to be a “warrior”. Eliot attended Princeton where he put together a campus-wide toga party in addition to creating the jocular Antarctica Liberation Front. The group though did declare that student participation on university committees were designed to minimize recommendations from students.

Eliot married Silda Wall, who was unhappily married when she met Eliot. Spitzer became a prosecutor who indicted several organized crime leaders. Spitzer used undercover agents, sting operations, and installing listening devices into Gambino crime organization offices. A high profile trial led to a plea bargain when those accused ended their allegedly illegal operations, paid $12 million in fines, and served no prison time. This did cause an immediate crippling change in mob businesses.

Spitzer then spent 18 months in private practice before deciding to run for Attorney General. His wife was surprised he sought public office before their children were grown. His wife gave birth to their third child five days after he announced his candidacy.

Spitzer self-financed his own campaign. He was in a primary against Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes and former State Sen. Karen Burstein. Spitzer, who had never run for office before, was not well know politically. Spitzer insisted the hundreds of temporary employees hired to gather signatures to put him on the ballot all produced, as required under the law, three forms of identification. He insisted his campaign follow all the rules.

Spitzer ran as a centrist, favoring the death penalty and charging more juveniles as adults. His man political asset was his recent prosecutions against organized crime.

Dick Morris, who usually was a political advisor to Republicans but also advised Bill Clinton, was Spitzer’s main political advisor. Morris was disliked by many Democrats so his role was mostly kept quiet. Dick Morris is not listed as being a client of Dick Morris on Spitzer’s campaign records. Payments were made to consultant Hank Sheinkopf who subcontracted his work, off the record, to Morris. Spitzer financed his own campaign, although some accuse him of receiving money from his father. Spitzer finished fourth in the 1994 Democratic Primary at 18% while spending $3.9 million, or $30 per vote. The primary winner Karen Burstein spent one tenth as much. Burstein, who is openly gay, lost the general election to Dennis Vacco.

Spitzer joined a law firm that let him take time to plan another campaign. He drove 70,000 miles across the state talking over the next four years. He employed former Democratic State Chairman John Marino. Spitzer, his family, and his campaign contributed $300,000 to fellow New York Democrats. Many he assisted later endorsed him for Attorney General. He won the 1998 Attorney General Democratic primary.

Spitzer created the Center for Community Interest, which declared it would defend against “civil liberties demands”. Spitzer claimed the political center with such moves. After winning the primary, Spitzer attacked Vacco for removing 140 lawyers with experience and replacing them with people with political connections. Vacco removed a ban against job hiring discrimination against homosexuals. Spitzer accused Vacco of not fighting for consumers. Spitzer ran an TV ad attacking Vacco’s Chief Deputy for failing the bar exam seven times.

Dick Morris advised the 1998 Spitzer campaign. He was paid $175,000. The campaign ended with a $12.2 million debt. It was determined that, despite his denials, that some funds he spent on his campaign which he claimed was his money included some funds from family members. The law allows unlimited self-financing but limits funds from others, including family members. Spitzer’s aides wanted Spitzer to admit his father was providing the legal limit he could contributed at $353,000. Spitzer declined, preferring not to have people know he was getting financial help from his father. He finally admitted that his family helped before the election. Spitzer narrowly defeated Vacco by 25,186 votes out of 4.3 million votes cast.

Spitzer saw the Attorney General as having a large stake in public interest and combating injustice. Employers not paying the minimum wage were hit with suits. Restaurant hires that discriminated against women were sued. New York City’s intention to end over 100 community gardens was halted. His office went after stock manipulators, got Merrill Lynch to settle for a $100 million fine, and they went after other Wall Street manipulators.

Under Spitzer, the Attorney General’s offices went after fraud in the mutual fund industry, leading to a 6% reduction in fees that saved investors $1.5 billion.

Spitzer ran for Governor in 2006. Meanwhile, his Attorney General’s office investigated American International Group, worth $156 billion, for fraud. The head of AIG, Hank Greenberg and fellow billionaire friend Ken Langone, publically threatened to destroy Spitzer. It was believed that would raise tens of millions of dollars for his political opponent. Opposition research teams researched in search of anything embarrassing against Spitzer. Greenberg’s foundation donated $10 million to the New School and its President, former Senator Bob Kerrey, who spoke out publically against Spitzer for attacking Greenberg in the press rather than in court.

The Attorney General’s office went after ten large scale prostitution rings, leading to imprisonment of the owner.

Several Harlem political bosses, including Secretary of State Basil Patterson, backed Leela Eve, an attorney, for Lieutenant Governor. Spitzer did not like anyone dictating to him, but he also didn’t want to offend the African America community that was partly led by the Harlem bosses. Spitzer instead picked State Sen. David Patterson, Basil’s son, as his running mate. Eve withdrew.

Spitzer had a skeleton. He saw high paid prostitutes. Several political opponents sought to find evidence of sexual impropriety but nothing surface during the 2006 campaign. Spitzer won 69.6% of the primary vote and 81% of the general election vote.

The New York legislature is considered dysfunctional. Many state legislative issues were made by agreement between the Republican Senate Majority Leader, the Democratic House Speaker, and the Governor. The legislative leadership directed more legislation and legislative staff hiring. This leadership decided how much in grants each legislator could be awarded to organizations supported by the legislature. Senate Republicans and staff gave themselves 800 Capitol parking spaces while giving Senate Democrats 30 parking spaces. Legislators were not legally required to disclose outside income. Senators were advised to hand deliver their ethics statements rather than mail them to avoid any possible Federal mail fraud charges.

Spitzer distrusted the legislature and told them so. They elected a fellow legislator as State Comptroller over a list of three selected by a panel Spitzer helped create. Spitzer called their actions “a stunning lack of integrity”. Spitzer then attacked by name some Democratic legislators who had supported him and canceled a fundraiser for legislative Democrats. Spitzer called for Speaker Sheldon Silver , a Democrat, to disclose his outside income as an attorney. Legislators were very upset and Spitzer in return.

Health care accounted for $46 billion of New York’s $120 billion budget. Health care costs were increasing 8% annually. Funding formulas sent funds to underserved hospitals and nursing homes while outpatient clinics and home healthcare were underfunded. The Hospital Association and its labor component SEIU Local 1199 agreed on increasing health care spending. Local 1199 was closely allied with Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican. Spitzer proposed holding the increase on health care spending to 2%, which meant cutting health care by $1.3 billion. Spitzer then proposed using the funds for health insurance for 400,000 uninsured children, increasing funds to low income school districts, and cutting property taxes.

Bruno and the Republican majority in the Senate sought to scale back the health care costs Spitzer wanted. Silver and the Democratic majority in the House sided towards Spitzer. A compromise was reached that put back $350 million in cuts Spitzer had wanted to hospitals and nursing homes, allowed $1 billion in cuts Spitzer wanted, provided more funds to poorer school districts, and provided $200 million to wealthier school districts in Long Island represented by Republican legislators. The budget increased 7.3%, or twice the inflation rate. The budget process continued being negotiated in private, angering groups that had hoped Spitzer would deliver on his promise to open the negotiations for public review.

Spitzer proposed lowering the $55.800 limit a donor could contribute to a statewide candidate. This was the nation’s highest state limit. Spitzer publicly criticized the legislature for pork spending projects. He attacked
Senators when they missed meetings. The legislature, in return, increased its opposition to Spitzer.

State aircraft are available for state business use. Bruno often used planes. Spitzer’s office required that state aircraft be used for “more than predominately” state purposes, since it was possible to use the aircraft for a short state use meeting and then attended a political or personal meeting. Bruno refused to submit itineraries, citing separation of powers between the legislature and administration. Spitzer chose not to press this issue and allowed Bruno use of the plane. The press discovered many of the flights were primarily to attend political functions.

The press reported Spitzer used State Police surveillance of Bruno. This spying became a press scandal facing Spitzer. It is noted that both of the scandals, Bruno’s flights nor Spitzer’s tracing of Bruno may have been legal. Yet much of the press and public found it troubling. The Attorney General recommended settling the issue by increasing the requirements for plane use.

It became known that Spitzer was wiring money without disclosing who was being paid. He also asked how the money could be sent without being tracked back to him. The FBI discovered that Spitzer was paying prostitutes with this money.

Spitzer realized he had few friends and many enemies in the legislature. A more popular Governor might have found a way to survive this scandal (as his successor did). Impeachment appeared likely for Spitzer. Spitzer resigned as Governor. Spitzer was never charged with a crime.

There are many theories that someone who disliked Spitzer tipped off the FBI. No theory has yet been proven as true.

David Patterson became Governor. Patterson immediately admitted to adultery and paying for a hotel room with his mistress twice using political funds, which is illegal. Paterson paid his campaign personally to cover these costs.

Bruno was later charged with illegally accepting $3.2 million from businesses. He was convicted.


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