By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
In addition to Air Pataki and Air Cuomo, stories about an Air Bruno have recently emerged. The senator directed a half-million-dollar state grant to a company controlled by a businessman who has supplied a half-dozen free flights to Bruno, his staff, and on one occasion, a member of his family. Incredibly, Paul Shechtman is trying to drive out of office the state lobbying commission director, who uncovered this apparent abuse.
Pataki's wife and state health commissioner Antonia Novello have recently been the subjects of exposés about their use of state drivers, with Novello sighted on shopping sprees. "This is an inappropriate question to ask a guy like me," Bruno protested when first confronted about possible family use of his own car or driver. Novello and Pataki spewed similar non sequiturs. Times columnist Clyde Haberman reported that Arthur Levitt, perhaps Hevesi's most revered predecessor, had a state car and driver pick up his healthy wife at the Brooklyn school where she worked in the '50s and '60s. Maybe the new sheriff of Albany is also considering a posthumous Levitt impeach ment.
9. Spitzer is allowing campaign damage control to frame critical government policy. While he has reportedly told people that he sees Hevesi's removal or forced resignation as an "opportunity" to demonstrate his evenhandedness, it instead has all the earmarks of political pandering, set in stone by a campaign comment designed originally to limit his own collateral damage from the Hevesi fallout. Asked which advisers Spitzer turned to before saying on October 26 that the commission's report "compromises" Hevesi's ability to serve as comptroller, Christine Anderson, who handles press for Spitzer, said it was "the same people involved in other campaign decisions." Pressed by the Voice at a recent New School conference, Anderson said the "compromise" statement went "hand in hand" with Spitzer's disendorsement of Hevesi and conceded it was a strategic campaign decision.
Spitzer, who was being derided by his GOP opponent John Faso for calling Hevesi a "stupendous" comptroller, overcompensated by going beyond dis-endorsing him and implying he was unfit. Anderson's comments make it clear that this judgment wasn't a legal or moral one, but a campaign decision, calculated to protect his 50-point lead. When asked last week if Hevesi could be "an effective comptroller during his next term," Spitzer's response that he had "spoken to that in the past" was an unmistakable reference to the "compromise" quote. He is now turning a damage control face-saver into the rationale for a state trial and ouster of an official reinstalled by the plenary power of a knowing electorate.
Already the governor-elect who genuinely wants to set high new standards of state conduct is sending a confused message. He recused himself from the probe the AG's office conducted of Hevesi's underpayment, presumably because he was too close to Hevesi, but hasn't recused himself from the gubernatorial judgment of bringing the case against Hevesi. His recusal on the AG probe was ridiculous, since all his staff had to do was read a newspaper to find out what he wanted them to do. Their probe of Hevesi aide Jack Chartier's shockingly inappropriate chauffeur services for a starlet is clearly being used to add to the resignation pressures on Hevesi.
Spitzer has had his own gingerly dance with state law, financing his first two AG campaigns with millions from his father. He took six years to fulfill his promise to repay his campaign, and only did so when he got a media call, just like Hevesi. He admitted he was wrong, just like Hevesi. When the new governor takes a moral stand in Albany, as he rightfully did with his self-imposed reform package, he must choose his ground carefully, or sink in its mire.
10. Going forward with a senate trial and replacement will be a colossal mess. A plethora of due process issues could stall proceedings for months or years, as David Kelley warned. While conviction will require a two-thirds vote, including eight Democrats, the GOP majority may, by itself, determine the rules and standard of proof, downgrading reasonable doubt to preponderance of evidence. It may try to adopt the record of the commission, limiting new testimony and cross-examina tion.
The day the Times printed its blind-sourced story predicting that Spitzer would bring the case to the senate, the Associated Press quoted equally blind senate sources saying they already had the votes to convict, before a shred of evidence has been introduced. Won't Hevesi's lawyers want a judge to force the disclosure of the identities of those sources? Won't Bruno's open bias be put before a judge before trial?
Sitting in judgment on Hevesi, if this gets to trial, will be one senator under indictment and another who was fined for using special senate funding to support a charity that employs his wife and ex-wife. Senate cars and drivers will be idling outside while they consider the evidence. Won't Hevesi's lawyers consider every state driver a potential witness? Will the senate, which only meets three days a week and actually has other real business, be forced to drag the trial out for months? Won't all of this diminish and disrupt Spitzer's grander state vision?