Governor Eliot Spitzer just concluded an angry press conference in Albany — his public response to today’s rebellion by the State Legislature, which voted to make Long Island state assemblyman Tom DiNapoli the new state comptroller. Spitzer scored plenty of rhetorical points — calling DiNapoli’s selection “an insider’s game of self-dealing” that “confirms the public’s worst image of what this Legislature does when given discretion,” and ripping Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver for “a lack of integrity.” He also tried to contrast the palace intrigue of the comptroller choice with the “public vote” yesterday that sent Craig Johnson to Albany to fill a State Senate vacancy.
It was a masterful attempt to claim the high road. But the fact remains that Spitzer lost this battle. And that’s a powerful dent to the image of a man who seemed to win every fight in his eight years as attorney general, and who was elected governor in a landslide. Spitzer will try to argue that the Assembly’s maneuvering is really a sign of weakness and fear by Silver: that if Silver hadn’t betrayed his agreement with the governor to pick an independent comptroller, Silver risked being overthrown by his membership. Perhaps. But now Silver and the Legislature feel they’ve shown Spitzer who’s really in charge, and it will embolden them to defy him on the state budget.
Not to mention the fact that the Senate seat was open in the first place because of some raw politics on the part of the governor: He enticed Mike Balboni, a Republican, to take a job in the Spitzer administration, betting that he could reduce the GOP margin by replacing Balboni with a Democrat in a special election. Spitzer will now increase his efforts to elect more loyal legislators, or to depose Silver. Somewhere, Alan Hevesi must be laughing. If Spitzer hadn’t turned around on his longtime friend in the middle of Chauffeurgate and pushed for Hevesi’s removal, the new governor wouldn’t be in this mess. Yet the collision between governor and legislature was never in doubt; only the timing was uncertain. Now it’s here, and for all the anger in his press-conference words, Spitzer looked happy to be back in open combat. —Chris Smith