Law enforcement called him “Client-9.” The Emperor’s Club VIP prostitution ring knew the man as “George Fox.” But as it turned out, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer — who had busted such criminal elements as state attorney general and crusaded for higher ethics on Wall Street and in Albany — was a return customer of this high-end hooker service. Spitzer apparently liked petite, pretty brunettes…
Reads like a novel, doesn’t it? But this is the political reality that stunned New York and much of the nation on Monday. Two questions come to mind. Actually, many questions come to mind, but let’s just focus on two.
First, what’s the deal of late with Democratic governors and sex scandals in New York and New Jersey? You remember, of course, former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey. In August 2004, he resigned when publicly revealing an adulterous affair with another man, despite being married twice and having two children. Last I heard, McGreevey was thinking about becoming a priest in (where else?) the Episcopal Church.
Nearly four years later, we now have New York’s Spitzer — or, allegedly, Client-9 — pathetically running a tab to purchase sexual favors. He also is married, and has three daughters.
Unfortunately, such occurrences are not unusual given the reality of human nature, with power and politics mixed in as well. These simply are two glaring public examples of arrogance and feelings of invincibility that plague many politicians. Given Spitzer’s crusading zeal and reported declaration of being a “steamroller” (preceded by a crude expletive) in politics, the governor’s fall is downright Shakespearean.
The second question: Shouldn’t the woes of Client-9 bolster the New York Republican party?
After all, this is the second statewide Democrat in New York to be immersed in scandal within a mere 19 months. Comptroller Alan Hevesi used state employees to drive and aid his ill wife. Hevesi bilked the taxpayers for more than $206,000. After getting caught, he repaid the money. He resigned in late December 2006.
New York Democrats seem stuck in an ethical mess. That means paying a political price … right? Not so fast.
Post-McGreevey, the Democrats actually picked up seats in the New Jersey state legislature, and Democrat Jon Corzine won the governorship by a hefty margin.
Even worse, though the Hevesi scandal broke in early September 2006, with his theft then pegged at $83,000, he actually was reelected that November with 57 percent of the vote. Despite the scandal being quite prominent, and fellow Democrat and then-candidate for governor Eliot Spitzer withdrawing his endorsement, more than 2.3 million New Yorkers made sure that Hevesi won reelection with plenty of room to spare.
Is New York just too liberal — too blue — to even consider voting Republican these days? Despite what this might indicate about the ethical moorings of New York Democrats, is the party’s nearly two-to-one edge in voter registration over Republicans scandal proof? Perhaps.
Of course, there could be another culprit in the mix. That is, a completely inept New York Republican party. On many important issues like government spending, various social issues (like abortion), education, and too often taxes, it’s hard to see how Republicans in New York differ all that much from Democrats. That being the case, why vote for the fake Democrats when you can cast your ballot for the real thing?
As a result, the last Republican holdout in New York — a majority in the state senate — is slowly slipping away. Republicans just lost a seat that the party held for well more than a century in a special election in northern New York. If one more seat goes in November, the Democrats would have a state senate majority for the first time in more than four decades.
Beyond policy shortcomings, New York Republicans are not exactly well-positioned to capitalize on Spitzer’s ethical woes either. For example, Republican State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno faces an FBI investigation regarding his business interests. For good measure, state-senate Republican’s relationships with interests like the teachers unions have wreaked damage on taxpayers and the state’s economy, and made Albany an ethical cesspool.
So, is New York lost? A long-shot chance exists. But a conservative uprising must sweep the old guard out of the Republican-party leadership. A New York GOP rooted in sound conservative principles could begin to rebuild the party, and offer an actual alternative to the Democrats. It would be a long, difficult process, requiring patience and principle that are usually in short supply in politics.
But the only alternative seems to be a situation whereby the Democrats gain control of the entire state legislature, and a rich, squishy Republican occasionally manages to win the governor’s office hoping to keep only the most egregious liberal impulses among legislators in check.
In the end, the troubles of Client-9 will not save the Republican party in New York. That can only be accomplished by a conservative revolution. Of course, that raises another question: Just how many conservatives are left in New York?
– Raymond J. Keating is a writer and economist who lives on Long Island.