We’re relieved — like most of New York — that New York Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned, but the damage he has done cannot be undone. The people whose lives Spitzer made it his mission to ruin cannot get back what he has taken from them, and in some cases the lawsuits he initiated against them as state attorney general continue to be prosecuted by his successor. And it is his wife and three teenage daughters who will suffer most from his tawdry second life. If there is any comfort at all from this episode, it is that a man who pursued his political ambitions by any means will almost certainly not be trusted with public office again.
Announcing his resignation Wednesday, Spitzer said, “I look at my time as governor with a sense of what might have been.” Looking back at the 14 months he served, it’s safe to say that “what might have been” had Spitzer served out his term would not have been anything good for New York. Spitzer was caught improperly using the state police to gather information on a political enemy. He issued an executive order eliminating legal residency as a requirement for drivers licenses, then backed down in the face of an overwhelming backlash. To pay for his proposed increases in state spending, he tried to increase the amount of sales tax New Yorkers had to pay just in time for the holiday shopping season.
Spitzer’s popularity was at a low ebb when the sex scandal arrived, but he had built up reserves of good will with the press during his eight-year tenure as state attorney general. Toasted by Time as 2002’s “Crusader of the Year” for his bullying campaigns against Wall Street investment firms, Spitzer’s willingness to overstep his bounds as a prosecutor and use the threat of litigation to impose new regulations on investors struck a chord with liberal reporters, who lapped up his tough-guy shtick.
He arrived in Albany with ambitions to become “the first Jewish president.” Now he’ll never get that chance. Eliot Spitzer has apologized, resigned, and apparently dedicated himself to rebuilding his relationship with his family. At the end of his press conference Wednesday, he said that he would eventually “try once again, outside of politics, to serve the common good.” It is Spitzer’s exile from politics that serves the public good.