Too Smart by Half

How Spitzer rigged the build-up to the war with the assembly

The Albany Times Union reported a day later that Grannis's appointment came as "something of a surprise," adding that "his name was not among those thought to be in contention even a few days ago." A candidate who was interviewed by the Murad panel told the Voice: "I was very surprised by the selection. The committee said they were intent on selecting a real environmental professional. That's not what they got. I think the panel was frustrated." But the linkage between the DEC job and the comptroller race has never been made, except by Spitzer critics who observed that DEC has a thousand more employees than the comptroller, making Grannis's appointment inconsistent with the governor's insistence that the new comptroller had to have significant management experience.

The anonymous panel member and Spitzer's spokeswoman Christine Anderson argue that Spitzer could not have known that Grannis would've made the list. Anderson told the Voice that neither Spitzer nor anyone on his behalf had any interactions with the panel after the screening process began. While some press reports have suggested that there were contacts, none have been established. The DEC and comptroller's jobs "just aren't linked," Anderson said, insisting that Grannis was picked for DEC "purely on the basis of his qualifications." **Informed in detail of the scenario Grannis described, including the dearth of contacts between January 2 and January 23, Anderson didn't challenge any of it. All she said about the bypassing of the transition committee's recommendations was that "names were brought to our attention" both by the committee and "outside" its purview.

But all Spitzer needed to know was that Grannis might get the panel's seal of approval to have reason to tab him for DEC. In fact, Grannis's presence in the race was a problem for Spitzer regardless of what the panel did.

That's because of Grannis's unique relationship with the editorial page of The New York Times. In 2004 and 2006, the Times ran editorials shortly before the general elections that so bemoaned the dysfunction of the state legislature they urged voters, wherever possible, to vote against incumbents of either party. The only exception to that rule in both editorials was Grannis, who it rightly saluted as a voice for ethics in a compromised capital. Having praised him so uniquely and having editorialized again and again about the admirable ethics legislation he has introduced, the Times would've been hard-pressed to embrace a panel outcome that excluded him.

So, getting Grannis out of the picture before the panel reported enabled the Times to enthusiastically join Spitzer in the campaign to make the panel's choices appear pure and wise. In so doing, the paper willfully ignored its own prior description of Goldin as a comptroller whose conduct made it "long for the simpler days of Boss Tweed," or its blast at Regan's "insensitivity to the appearance of corruption."

Had Grannis stayed in the game and been the only assemblyman recommended, the legislature, of course, would've selected him, the Times would've applauded, and the war that our steamroller governor apparently very much wanted would've been averted. The last-second maneuver for Grannis, combined with the abrupt deep-sixing of Spitzer's own DEC selection process, is evidence of just how determined the governor was to put Silver between a rock and a hard place. Though the war that followed the legislature's spurning of the panel and appointment of DiNapoli is over a prerogative constitutionally restricted to the legislature, the Grannis saga suggests that it was one the new governor consciously provoked.

Research assistance: Matt Friedman, Dan House, Brian Lisi, Hannah Vahl

**Editor's note: The following two sentences were added 02.17.07.
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