Eliot Spitzer Goes Down

Behind the governor's extreme makeover

The funny thing is that if it had been the 78-year-old Bruno who had been caught in flagrante with a young hooker, he could likely count on a strong residue of public and political goodwill. Not just because he only recently lost his wife of 57 years, but because he has been careful to harvest friends on both sides of the aisle.

Spitzer had no such foresight, or perhaps no such ability. He's the most damaged state politician in recent history, not because his sins of commission are so great, but because he held so many others to the standards he knew he had no intention of holding himself to.

We'll know more in the days ahead, but there is also the possibility that Spitzer's downfall is the work of other prosecutors, this time in Washington, and every bit as zealous as the former sheriff of Wall Street. The Bush-era Justice Department's Public Integrity Section hasn't exactly distinguished itself when it comes to inquiries of Democratic governors, as per the case of Alabama ex-governor Don Siegelman, whose successful prosecution is alleged to have been spurred by ex–White House aide Karl Rove.

Running on empty: Spitzer pounced on the shortcomings of others.
Richard B. Levine
Running on empty: Spitzer pounced on the shortcomings of others.

If so, it would be one more irony for Spitzer, who never met a corruption case he didn't want to chase.

For what it's worth, here's another odd bit of circular history: As newly elected governor, Eliot Spitzer was most constantly compared with former governor Thomas E. Dewey, another ex-prosecutor whose Mr. Clean image and stellar record of locking up the bad guys vaulted him into the executive mansion, and nearly made him president.

Dewey's biggest catch was his conviction of Mafia godfather Charles "Lucky" Luciano for running a string of city brothels. The 1936 trial made Dewey a national hero. Historians, however, now generally agree that while Luciano undoubtedly profited from the prostitution rackets, perjured testimony was used to convict him. The way the story goes, it was guilt about that case that later prompted Dewey to let Luciano out of prison, allowing him to go into exile in Italy, where the gangster later died.

It's not the worst fantasy to imagine the ghost of old Lucky Luciano prowling the Albany executive mansion, watching the randy young governor, and looking for a little payback of his own.

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