Spitzer Legacy Will Stay Strong

Transgressions with prostitutes don’t negate the New York Governor and former Attorney General’s success as a crime fighter. Pro or con?

Pro: Accomplishments Will Stand

Eliot Spitzer’s marital infidelity might very well end his public career. And dabbling in illegal behavior hardly bolsters his crime-fighting bona fides. But it simply cannot reverse the legacy of his powerful reforms: rooting out long-tolerated corruption in Wall Street and related white-collar circles.

Equity analysts, for example, cannot and will not go back to selling favorable research for banking fees. The tens of damning press releases that emerged from the Attorney General’s office six years ago will not be invalidated. Though ousted executives might now contend that Spitzer was calling the kettle black the whole time—how dare he moralize to others!—that will not be enough to restore them to their corporate thrones.

If it’s any comfort, Eliot Spitzer was already diminished: His tour as Governor has been a step down in efficacy from his days as a crusading Attorney General. He was a phenomenal Attorney General, but New Yorkers may never know if he would have been a great Governor as well.

Con: A Sorry Record

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s tenure will go down in history as one of the most spectacularly ineffectual in the state’s history. As the Governor gets ready to relinquish his post in the wake of admitting he has been a client of a high-priced prostitution ring, it’s difficult to remember the triumphs he claimed as a crusading Attorney General.

Spitzer entered the Governor’s mansion with enormous expectations, driven by his own ambition and rhetoric. And he was seriously considered to have the best chance to become the U.S.’s first Jewish president. Known as “The Sheriff of Wall Street” and even “Eliot Ness,” Spitzer went after white-collar criminals, as well as, yes, prostitution rings.

As Governor, Spitzer hasn’t had time to do much besides alienate Republican rivals in the New York State House with whom he would have to do business to get anything done, and he even presided over staff members who engineered a sophisticated smear campaign against Spitzer’s Republican rival, State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

Governor Spitzer will be judged only as a hypocritical moralizer who self-destructed after just one year as Governor.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek,com Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Reader Comments

Omar

As I followed Spitzer's zealousness in "pursuing powerful reforms, in rooting out [ostensible] long-tolerated corruption in Wall Street and related white-collar circles," I could not help but be reminded of this famous quotation: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." Hamlet. Act III. Sc. 2.

SPQR_US

You must have forgotten all the fake indictments that Prince Eliot got and used simply for PR value knowing that no wrong had been committed. Spitzer loved to drop his false charges when he felt safe. Too bad for him he's now facing a growing number of lawsuits from people whose lives he selfishly and falsely destroyed. Mike Nifong was an amateur compared with Spitzer. Prince Eliot deserves to face the same prosecutorial zeal he used on his victims.

J Rotes

Pro, you've got to be kidding. When will hard-working Americans tire of hypocritical politicians and media? Spitzer prosecuted so many hard-working people just to fulfill his political ambitions based on "ethics." Throw him in jail for the rest of his life. I am glad I cancelled my subscription to BW--you should be calling the hypocrisy here, not defending this excuse of a man.

Arnold

Does the fact the New York Governor sees prostitutes in his spare time disturb you? What if it was kept concealed from the public? Would that render him unfit to serve as Governor? I'm trying to gauge public opinion on this one. If you're interested, please vote on my poll:
http://www.pollsb.com/polls/poll/7145/does-the-fact-new-york-governor-sees-prostitutes-in-his-spare-time-disturb-you.

Jim D

Only if you live in La La Land and try to determine what the meaning of is "is." You are exposed as having been involved in the very same things you built your reputation on, burying others along the way. You are preening as "Super Crime Fighter," and now this. Forever tarnished, just like Clinton.

khalid shekh

How can a man with so many enemies make such a stupid mistake? He deserves whatever he gets.

random

Spitzer's legacy is mortally wounded for two reasons. First were his tactics in persecuting white collar crime. When it became the topic du jour, Spitzer went all out with detailed, embarrassing, salacious and often unproven charges. He relied on a trial by media to shame companies whose guilt was yet to be proven and make himself look like a persecuting superstar on the lookout for the little guy from the likes of Ken Lay and Dennis Kozlowski robbing their paychecks to throw $10 million toga parties in the Mediterranean. How many of his charges actually resulted in indictments and convictions? Not many. It's nothing short of an abuse of the legal system and would read like an Onion article if we haven't seen it with our own eyes.

Second, when you crusade for ethics and get caught with your pants down after paying $5,000 an hour for a prostitute, your image is forever tarnished. Anyone remember one of the most vocal proponents of undercover sting operations to catch pedophile, Mark Foley? You can't be building your career on fighting things you do in your free time. So now, not only does he have a legacy of sensationalistic show trials by media but also that of a hypocrite. Under that baggage, any legacy short of building a world wonder or saving a city from imminent destruction, will collapse into dust.

Neil P

This is the legacy of our current crop of Democrats. Just do whatever feels right, and to hell with the law. A legacy left over from a current New York former President.

Stephanie

He should not be the governor for New York anymore. Why would he go against the law? He is supposed to set good examples, not bad ones. He should lose his job as far as I am concerned. He is a sneak. Look at his wife and what he's done to her.

JJames

I cannot help but applaud Spitzer. He recognized that ordinary people do have a face and deserve to be recognized. However, the vagabonds of Wall Street and other management institutions detested him for he understood their methods of corruption and exploitation, and exposed them. He fell victim to the cliche--our weakness of the opposite sex. Wall Street could not wait for such terrible mess. They celebrate, knowing they can now continue their heartless crimes.

Erland Elliot

While I believe that private financial and sexual relations between consenting adults should not be illegal, what Spitzer has done would have been used by Spitzer himself against anyone he was attempting to take down in his capacity of attorney general or governor.

As such, one can argue he deserves his comeuppance. But let him stay in office as governor--defanged, he can't do much damage any longer.

Ria Rhodes

Spitzer has done much good, but unfortunately he (like Bill Clinton) will be remembered by the public for his sexual misadventure(s). The governor needs to step down from his office for extremely poor judgment and the hypocrisy of condemning prostitution while availing himself of same. The saddest part of this story has to be the betrayal of his family, and he himself expressed that as his main concern in his first public statement about the matter.

JerseyBob

(Wooo).

Eliot Spitzer: Oh dark specter who are you? What do you want? (Wooo)

Ghost of John Winthrop: I am John Winthrop who, too, was a governor, and I dispense eternal punishment to sinful governors. Your pride has crossed over, and I have thrown it to the fire. One day I will be back for your soul, which I will toss there, too. (Wooo)

Spitzer: But I'm Eliot Spitzer, and I give nothing up. You can't do this. Come on, have a heart. (Wooo)

Winthrop: Oh, have you a heart? It is said by many you are heartless. Obscured by your pride, I suspect. Well then, I'll take your heart, too, when I return for your soul. (Wooo)

Spitzer: No! No! I will have nothing left when my last day is done. You're one hell of a jerk. (Wooo)

Winthrop: A jerk, you say? Nothing left? A small comfort then I will allow: You will be left with your penis for all eternity, and you shall become as one. (Wooo)

Spitzer: (silence) (Wooo)

Winthrop: I'll be back. (Wooo)

DannyBoy

Spitzer is a typical lawyer, typical bureaucrat, and typical Democrat. Always after someone else's money and always trying to get money to make our too-big government even bigger. And willing to do anything to make a name for himself. Well, he finally succeeded; too bad he had to wipe out so much stock value in the process.

BR Plante

The guy's an arrogant hypocrite and just one more political john who got caught. His legacy will be personal corruption trumps public good.

Dumbass

Hey, do us all a favor and get lost, you creep. I guess you don't have a full-length mirror at your house.

peter@AreWeSafer.com

I'd say Eliot Spitzer's tenure is still much better than Larry Craig's or Mark Foley's, because the former solicited sex in a Men's Room at an airport and the latter molested a kid. At worst, he should be at the same level as Senator David Vitter, who shamelessly stays on Capitol Hill. No worse, no better. Fair enough?

Dam mitt

He is just another political whore. Not a big surprise. If I had to wake up every morning to his face, I wouldn't give it up either. So there you have it, Mr. Spitzer. You couldn't help it, because your wife couldn't do it with you anymore, so you had to actually pay someone. I am surprised she didn't charge you more.

micke

Forget what he did to his wife. What about his three teenage daughters?

terryreport.com

His legacy of crime fighting, on Wall Street and off, will endure for years, if not decades. For one thing, he was, until this week, a model of how a young prosecutor could elevate himself to higher office. Also, his targets were not, generally, minor or petty. He brought down some big wrongdoers and, at least generally, acted in the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt as a trust buster.

One can argue endlessly over the application of laws and whether the public ultimately benefits, but there is no doubt that Spitzer laid down a record for others to follow as a prosecutor.

eyedoc812

So Spitzer is guilty of hubris, hypocrisy, and sexual indiscretion. What else is new? If we ousted all the politicians who were guilty of these sins, our chambers of government would be empty. Somehow, the sight of all those rich, powerful, well-connected guys gloating over Spitzer's humiliation makes me wonder who will be around to monitor their hubris after Spitzer is off the stage.

Rob

Just resign. It doesn't matter what you did or tried to do--your past will be marred by hypocrisy. Just disgraceful.

good job

You morons of man, if it wasn't for his relentless pursuit of corporate evil doers, you would probably have lost all your pension funds and be living in the streets, because you invested in Enron and the likes of it. He sure was dumb, but I prefer him to the greed and evil that ruled wall street. Just imagine if all the Enron crap were to be discovered only now; then god bless America. Terrorists all over the world would be rejoicing right now, because with your housing credit crisis and your dumb excuse for a war in Iraq, Enron would have been the final nail into your coffin.

Former NYS Employee

As someone who worked for a NYS agency for a period of time under the Spitzer regime, I would have to say that his legacy should be forever tainted.

This man passed himself off as a law-abiding, upstanding representation of what government employees (especially elected and appointed employees) could and should be. In fact, I spent several months training state employees in support of his position that there was a need to instill an understanding of the NYS ethics code and the ethical obligation employees had to state government and the state's residents. I still remember the complaint from lawyers, judges, and employees that the code was only for them and never intended for those who have won their positions via election or as the spoils thereof.

Once again we have been hoodwinked by someone who believed he was bigger than and better than the system--the system he created and prosecuted, mind you. Legacy-wise, the record is nowhere near what many of you outside of NYS claim that it is. He falls into the Hillary Clinton mold of living in a fanciful land where he genuinely believes he really made a difference.

Has anyone discussed whose money he was playing with to fly to D.C. and elsewhere to sow his wild oats? If not, read a copy of NYS's ethics code and consider if this political giant is willing to step up to the plate and honor it. Right now he's cowering in shame--or is that trying to save face at any cost? Sometimes it is really tough to lie in the bed you've made. If he is what claims to be, it is time to step forward and face the consequences he's so aptly laid out for the rest of us. To regain confidence and perhaps reclaim some of your legacy Eliot, do the right thing and don't run from your responsibilities and obligations.

random

"You morons of man, if it wasn't for his relentless pursuit of corporate evil doers, you would probably have lost all your pension funds and be living in the streets, because you invested in Enron and the likes of it."

Actually, the corporate evil doers at the likes of Enron, WorldCom, and Adelphia were outed mostly by whistle blowers inside the companies. Yes, the evil corporate monsters stealing pensions funds for personal greed were the ones who called the SEC and said that there was a problem in the C-suite and the boardroom. So pardon these poor morons of man (sic) for not crediting Spitzer with something the honest and upstanding employees of corporations with corrupt leaderships did.

Likewise, Spitzer's much-touted investigations into Wall Street corruption and improprieties were media trials in which he released the juiciest accusations to stoke populist sentiment and turned the middle class and investors reeling from losses against the companies he targeted. The companies would then settle to make Spitzer stop hammering at them and avoid multibillion-dollar legal battles sure to drag them through the mud whether the charges were ultimately dismissed or not.

When you're paying off the Attorney General of a state to stop tabloid style rumors around you, it doesn't sound like justice to me. It sounds like blackmail. Let's keep in mind that an accusation is not proof and not all companies have pockets deep enough to sustain years of court fights, so they just want to make the problem go away. Were some companies guilty of wrongdoing? Yes. Did Spitzer actually properly fine and punish some of them? Yes. But the list of the guilty is a lot smaller and a lot less impressive than the list of those he blackmailed into settlements.

People with a lot of money can do very bad things with it. But assuming all of them guilty by association (which is a type of logical fallacy) and unleashing a smear campaign in the media regardless of whether you've proved their guilt in a court of law or not, is not the way to enforce the legal codex. I don't think the AG's oath includes the words "I will support, obey, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of New York by looking for scapegoats and blaming as many people as I can of doing as many inflammatory things as possible to fulfill my political ambitions." Unless there's been a recent addition I'm not aware of.

Bh

I am waiting for the media to blame the ex-Governor's transgressions on President Bush. Surely he could have prevented this.

DannyBoy

Let's see now, if I sue this company for $500 million, I can give 10 of my lawyer cronies a job and still have money left over to assure my own healthy raise. Everyone I know that owned the stock has been warned and sold it, so it's fair game now. That also gives a whole bunch of additional lawyers, judges, etc., quite a bit of money coming their way regardless of which side of the fence they are on. Between all of us, we should be able to come up with our next target and just keep this scheme going.

While we're at it, we may as well pass a few more laws to make it easier to trap our next victim and enrich the government and a bunch more lawyers again. We lawyers have really got it made. Our buddy legislators, all of whom are also lawyers, craft each law to help lawyers and bureaucrats get richer and keep enlarging our kingdom, and no one can do anything about it.

Mickey

I think Spitzer (whom I had never even heard of before this controversy) did the right thing by stepping down, as he wouldn't be able to do any good in office now anyway. I'm not excusing his actions, and if he did something illegal, he should be punished accordingly. But it really ticks me off that we in this country get all in a tizzy over any sexual indiscretion that a politician engages in, and in our minds it automatically overshadows everything else he has ever done. Most other countries around the world could care less about this sort of thing. But any time a U.S. politician does something inappropriate with his pee pee, reporters have a field day and people go crazy cross examining and engaging in these sorts of "debates." Could it be that we are the ones actually so obsessed with sex?

Oh, and if we're going to "get rid of all the crooked politicians," then we'd better go ahead and shut down all the governments because they're all crooked in one way or another.

PB

He will be remembered as Client #9, who believed all CEOs and other heads of businesses are crooks, where he himself turned out to be morally bankrupt.

Alx

The entire BW question is wrong as it implies that some good that was done to remove Wall Street corruption should be rolled back just because the chief advocate became/was a hypocrite. While I am glad that his behavior is not publicly tolerated, he is far from the only person in history to fall victim to his ego, pride, etc. We should always try to push for what is right--loving your neighbor as yourself is what makes the world a little more tolerable. But, we are all "sinners." So to answer the original question: The "good" things he achieved should remain so that we end up with a better world, while he himself departs. He has violated the public trust, and no one should be above the law.

JD

Spitzer was an idiot for indulging in prostitution--putting aside the morality--because he had many enemies, and word does eventually get out. That being said, there has been an article written about how the Justice Department stumbled, so they say, on this case. There should have been no bank notification of suspicious financial activity at the level at which this was conducted. And someone with a net worth of $500 million would not trigger reports because of the size of transactions someone at that level would have even if they went over the trigger amount. The Justice Department obviously had him targeted and were fishing for something. He was a strong proponent of oversight on the mortgage industry and was hindered in that effort by the Bush Administration. His investigations showed that the Bush Administration was complicit in allowing the mortgage industry to target minorities and sell them loans with higher interest rates than they were providing to white folks. Just another case of the politicization of the Justice Department.

Cindy

Spitzer did a lot of good things as Attorney General, going after criminals. It's a shame that his infidelity will now be used as an excuse and smoke screen to shield white collar crime and government corruption. People need to see beyond the "business friendly" spin that's going to come out of this, and continue to insist that crooks be prosecuted. Even if the guy going after them can't keep his pants on.

surfer1104

Spitzer got caught. That is the only shame, since most of our other politicians are doing the same thing. You know our country is slowly going down the tubes when a prostitute is elevated to celebrity status instead of being shamed. I blame all this on Bill Clinton, who promoted this behavior in the first place.

jack goldman

We are getting slimier people of less character in public office. Spitzer was one of them, two-faced and a lying cheater. Spitzer and Clinton are both lying, cheating public servants who believe their cheating is fine, but other cheaters are not fine. Spitzer and Clinton did a lot of good things. So did Adolph Hitler. Doing wrong is doing wrong. We need better public servants with character. Spitzer has done harm to others and himself, and that is evil. There is no room for evil people in public service. Spitzer and Clinton should be ashamed of themselves and never show their faces in public again.

David

I believe that every single human being has failings, and his are certainly on public display. As much as his enemies are gloating at his failure, we should remember what Jesus taught us about the plank in our own eye. Everyone (including me) loves it when a jerk gets what he deserves, but we must have compassion and pray for him and his family.

mitch

Has this hypocrite nation forgotten what Eliot Spitzer has done for New York and the world, by exposing corrupt SOB CEOs, mutual fund thieves who were milking the poor guys, Wall Street crooks who were making sure to make an illegal buck on the side and making investors suffer while a few made millions? They all must be visiting prostitutes and having affairs and taking drugs, but they have not been caught yet, because they are nobodies. They are not Harvard-graduate governors. Have they forgotten how Spitzer got rid of the Gambino family's organized-crime grip on the Garment District, trucking, etc.? New York lost a great man called Eliot Spitzer. We will miss you, sir. I applaud you, and God bless you; hope to see you soon kicking the butts of all the people who are mocking you now. I don't know one married guy who does not mess around on his wife, go to bachelor parties, get drunk, and mess around with the strippers, have affairs, watch porn, and visit prostitutes. You did nothing wrong--the only wrong was not to allow these people to do to you what they are doing now. You are too smart to allow this to happen. That is the only thing bothering me, Eliot. How did you allow the Fed and IRS and the other corrupt Republicans to get you like this? Get them back with a vengeance not seen by this world. Make revenge your ultimate goal, the likes not even seen by God. I salute you, sir. This is not good-bye but only "Until We See You Again." By the way, I don't think most people know you are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. More than 99.9% of all the low-life poor good-for-nothing New Yorkers who are against you. More than those 75,000-a-year Fed and IRS low lives. More than those corrupt Republicans.

Dave

He certainly did some bad, just as he certainly did some good. One does not subtract from the other. The good and bad stand separate from one another. Outstanding leaders appeal to the hearts of their followers, not their minds. They are not successful as much as they are significant. I have come to realize in life that truth will not set you free, but honesty will. Hopefully people who run for office will be honest with the people they represent as well as with themselves.

Rod

I reckon Spitzer did some good, but he also made some mistakes. Who doesn't? Clinton made mistakes, put up with several years of persecution at the hands of Republicans and Ken Starr, and was still able to do ten times better a job as President than the one we've had for the past seven years. Funny thing, when some of Clinton's biggest critics found themselves in the spotlight, it turns out that they had their own skeletons, including illegitimate kids and the like, in their closets. Sure, Democrats are human and they make mistakes, but they sure aren't the only ones.

DeathThreatVictim

The Eliot Spitzer legacy will forever stand as one of a U.S. Attorney and chief New York State prosecutor who simultaneously and secretly did business with at least one organized crime family in the form of a prostitution ring. What marks the Spitzer family get-rich-quick story is how the media and fellow corrupt public officials have protected the associated crime families from exposure, investigation, and prosecution even after the revelation of Eliot's undeniable protection to the neo-mafia. Spitzer's high profile and dutifully publicized efforts against certain large companies pales in comparison to his willful cover ups of crimes he covered up and failed to pursue. Clearly, at least one crime family had the ultimate dirt on Spitzer, and protection was a given. But how many other businesses was this crime family involved in? How many criminal referrals did Spitzer bury--such as the recorded death threat against the whistle blower in the WorldCom fraud? Only a federal special prosecutor will have the power to uncover, unravel, and clean up the tightly wound web of corruption at the highest levels of our society, involving some big-law lawyers, law enforcement at the DOJ, and the judiciary. Then again, the Spitzer clan's spin machine may succeed in convincing the general public that the story is just about sex.

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