Steamroller Stalled: Could You See It Coming?

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In a nutshell: In an effort to score political points by claiming his nemesis, Joe Bruno, was inappropriately using state resources (aircraft, cars, troopers) to travel to political events, Eliot Spitzer, or at least people working for Eliot Spitzer, inappropriately used state resources (the state police) to carry out their oppo research. A.G. Andrew Cuomo released a report yesterday saying so, and saying, incidentally, that Bruno hadn't actually done anything wrong. Spitzer indefinitely suspended one aide, transferred another out of the governor's office, and denied any knowledge of what they were up to; Republicans are skeptical he was really so oblivious. So much for being the White Knight, eh?

In last week's New York, Steve Fishman profiled the governor and examined his (many) feuds with other state officials, most notably Bruno. There's lots of fun foreshadowing.

Spitzer loves a fight. "When you're on the playing field, you fight as hard as you possible can," he told Fishman. "You don't give an inch because you're both playing by those hard rules. Afterwards, you shake hands and you say, 'That was great! Onto the next!'" He'd been primed for this sort of incessant battling since his childhood, where his father encouraged — even mandated — that his three kids engage in intellectual combat over every meal. It was "an ongoing argument that never stops," a Spitzer friend told Fishman. "It was like intellectual professional wrestling, except it wasn't staged." As governor, Spitzer and his staff continue that constant jousting, and they're convinced they'll win, because they're best equipped. "The reality is Spitzer does have the smartest people in the room working with him," an aide told Fishman. And those smartest people are dedicated to him. "There is a little lovefest some of us here have with him," Lieutenant Governor David Paterson said. They're sure of themselves, and sure of each other. There are some fights, Spitzer told Fishman, in which "you can never concede errors because you just can't do it."

But that surety can have a dark side. "Spitzer's people are so convinced they're right that nothing they do is wrong," a Democratic legislator told Fishman. And Joe Bruno certainly had no patience for the governor's schtick. "He has an attitude about him," the Senate leader said. "Really, he does. He's kind of above it all, aloof. He handles himself like some kid who's used to getting him own way." And while he may be used to getting his own way, Spitzer himself was at great pains to show he wasn't above it all. Fishman mentioned an anecdote about an aide e-mailing the governor with bad news at 4:45 a.m., after an all-night negotiating session. "He left out an important fact," Spitzer said to Fishman. "I sent him one back at 4:46." The governor is not a man unaware of details.

The initial story about Bruno's allegedly illegal use of state aircraft appeared in the Albany Times Union on July 1. It was, Fishman wrote, "an apparent gift to Spitzer that Bruno turned on its head. Bruno accused Spitzer of 'political espionage,' saying the information came from the executive branch." Turns out he was right.

The Steamroller in the Swamp [NYM]