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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Sam Munson

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Sam Munson

Last Build Date: Thu, 17 Aug 2006 00:29:49 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Ambitious Eliot Spitzer

Thu, 17 Aug 2006 00:29:49 -0600

Spitzer's meteoric rise into America's political consciousness has as much to do with the times as with the man. The lean years after the dot-com collapse left the investing public with a hankering for visible, swift revenge on its defrauders, real and alleged. Practices that had gone uncriticized throughout the 1990s (to the point, nearly, where they had become standard operating procedure for growing corporations) suddenly emerged as proofs of the utter moral bankruptcy of America's corporate culture. Something, to coin a phrase, had to be done, and Spitzer -- in his own mind, certainly, and in the media's collective imagination -- was just the man to do it. But while his success as a reformer seems undeniable, his record in ensuring that the wrongdoers actually received their just punishment is far spottier. The source of this curious disconnect forms the implicit subject of Brooke Masters' open-eyed treatment of Spitzer. This theme, indeed, first appears in the book's title. Masters' book is a studious and objective account of the life and times of Eliot Spitzer, and one fact of Spitzer's character emerges over the course of it as undeniably clear: This is a man whose considerable worldly success is founded, in the end, on his bottomless font of aggression. (That, and his father's money.) What this may mean for his political future is unclear at present. But it is eminently worth considering. Eliot Spitzer was born in Riverdale, a tony near-suburb of New York City, in 1959, the middle of three children. His father, Bernard, an engineer-turned-developer, was in the midst of amassing his fortune; his mother was teaching college English. He attended the famed Horace Mann School and Princeton, and earned his jd from Harvard (where he served as an intern in Alan Dershowitz's defense of Claus von Bulow). Spitzer did a stint as a clerk for Judge Robert Abrams, and another at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, but really began to hit his stride when he joined the Manhattan da's office in 1985, under the renowned Robert Morgenthau. Here he worked closely with Michael Cherkasky (whom Spitzer's prosecutorial efforts would, more than 20 years later, propel into the limelight as a newly-appointed ceo in charge of cleaning up insurance giant Marsh & McClennan) in its organized crime department. In 1988, Spitzer negotiated a high-profile plea deal with mobsters caught in a sting operation aimed at exposing corruption in the garment trucking industry, and immediately stepped into a whirl of media controversy that has not quieted appreciably up to the present day. Spitzer left the da's office in 1992 to return to private practice at Paul, Weiss, but in late 1993 the state attorney general's office began to look tempting: It was filled by appointee G. Oliver Koppell, who would have no real incumbent status come the election in 1994. Spitzer entered the race late, took out a huge bank loan to offset his lack of fundraising time, and began spending like a sailor. (This loan would come back to haunt him: His father paid it off through a series of self-dealing real estate transactions, an act that pushed the envelope of New York's campaign finance laws and provided fodder for Spitzer's political foes). The hard-and-fast approach did not avail, however. Spitzer placed dead last in the Democratic primary. But by 1998, when the office came up for contest once again, he was ready. He had spent the intervening four years quietly campaigning and building a political support network. Spitzer took the primary (with a little more financial help from his father) and, in one of the most hotly contested elections in state history, defeated Republican Dennis Vacco by just over 25,000 votes. Spitzer was sworn in on January 1, 1999. He began his career as attorney general with an investigation into Delta Funding, a home equity loan company with highly questionable business practices. After backing out of a plea deal with Spitzer's office, Delta was penalized by the state's banking department to the tune of $12 million without any requirement [...]