The Spitzer Scandal: Lust Plus Pride

The Spitzer Scandal: Lust Plus Pride
On a day of heavy ironies for one of America’s most prominent and promising politicians, there was this: the prostitution ring that New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer allegedly patronized was called the Emperors Club VIP. It was the governor’s own imperial mien, after all, that will make this fall from grace particularly bruising.

It was, in many ways, a Jimmy Swaggart moment for New York State: the sloppy fall of a man known for his uprightness, his starched shirts , and the vigorous adjectives he reserved for those deemed less righteous .

Four individuals had been charged last week with operating the Emperors Club VIP, which is described by law enforcement authorities as an “international prostitution and money-laundering ring.” Court papers indicate the business garnered more than $1 million by arranging trysts between its more than 50 prostitutes and “wealthy male clients” in London, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Paris and Washington. The customers are said to pay $1,000 to $5,500 per hour for the services of the ring’s “Spokes Models” [sic]. Spitzer was allegedly among those clients.

A wiretap allegedly recorded the setting up of a Washington, D.C., appointment between him and an Emperors Club “model.” Spitzer may have made his name going after Wall Street gluttony, but he had a long history with criminal cases involving wiretaps, from his 1992 Gambino “mob tax” prosecution based on taped phone conversations to his 2004 calls for the FCC to let prosecutors tap internet phones and intercept text or picture messages on cell phones. Spitzer himself said that New York State does about 30% of the nation’s wiretaps, and he helped make it a powerful weapon in the prosecutors’ arsenal. If the charges are true, why would he think he was immune from such techniques? Another irony.

Will this be his last act in politics? There’s no handbook for surviving sexual scandal. Bill Clinton did, while Republican Bob Livingston, on the cusp of being named House Speaker in 1998, did not. Two more survivors: Representative Barney Frank,
who admitted to involvement with a male prostitute in 1989, and Sen. Larry Craig , who is still limping on to the end of his term after being caught in a bathroom stall sting.

The allegations could be particularly damaging to Spitzer, a former hard-nosed prosecutor who had made ferreting out corporate malfeasance and cracking down on corruption centerpieces of his political platform. “It’s going to be really difficult for him to move on,” says Justin Phillips, a state politics expert at Columbia University in New York City. “He had framed himself as someone who fought against corruption.” His political opponents were quick to capitalize on the dissonance between the image he embraced and the figure he cut on Monday. “He has disgraced his office and the entire state of New York,” James Tedisco, the state assembly’s minority leader, told reporters. “He should resign his office immediately.”

When Spitzer finally addressed the Emperors Club charges in a delayed and brief non-denial before the assembled media on Monday afternoon, the governor said, “I do not believe that politics in the long run is about individuals. It is about ideas.” But if these accusations do spell the end of Spitzer as an individual in political life, his ideas — of reform and clean governance in Albany — had already stalled because of a different cardinal sin: not Luxuria , as in Monday’s scandal, but Superbia . Spitzer’s Superbia had rankled old and new in Albany, certainly the Republican majority in the statehouse, but also many Democrats who were astounded at his prickly partisanship and how it cut off all lines of communication between the executive mansion and the state assembly.

After sweeping to power in Albany with a landmark victory — he took office in January, 2007 by winning 69% of the vote — he quickly engendered resentment for both his policies and management style. Spitzer was the architect of a widely unpopular plan to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, and did not endear himself to constituents by squabbling with the Republican-controlled State Senate, and particularly the body’s majority leader, Joseph Bruno, whose camp accused the governor of deploying “dirty tricks” to smear his opponents. “I don’t think, by any metric, you’d say that his administration thus far has been a success,” Phillips says. In order for Spitzer to keep his job, says Phillips, “he’d have to come clean right away, admit to what he did and not have this trickle of damaging information come out.”

The trickle is titillating and politically noxious. The Emperors Club website crashed on Monday afternoon with the onslaught of journalistic and prurient interest. The New York Times has identified Spitzer as Client 9 from these affidavits in the Emperors Club sting. “Kristen” met with Client 9 the night of February 13, 2008, according to the affidavit, after describing herself as “petite, very pretty brunette, 5 feet 5 inches, 105 pounds”. They were finished, three hours and $4,300 later.