Yet even as his gubernatorial hand grew stronger, signs of personal trouble were growing harder to ignore. Did Spitzer even want to be governor? Every time things were looking good, he’d screw himself. One longtime close associate says that Spitzer’s drinking increased significantly. “He definitely drank a lot more, even from two years ago,” the aide says, “and much more than when he was A.G. He’s a Scotch drinker.”
Spitzer loved to back up his tough-guy credentials by saying he’d grown up “in the Bronx.” And that’s technically true. But Riverdale is a long way, in every meaningful respect, from Morrisania. Spitzer was inescapably a product of wealth, Horace Mann, Princeton, and Harvard. And it hurt when Bruno, who really did brawl his way up from poverty, taunted Spitzer as a “rich spoiled brat.” Compounding the humiliation, last year, in the midst of the greatest and most prolonged losing streak of his life, he needed help from his wife to get out of the ditch.
Spitzer, says a friend, has always been attracted to “rough-around-the-edges types, dese-dem-dose kinds of guys.” If Spitzer could never be an authentic, old-school neighborhood guy, at least his money could buy himself a taste of the edgy, subterranean life. For years Spitzer had been reckless—in his foulmouthed conversation, in his contempt for his adversaries, in his use of the power he’d been given as attorney general. But when he found himself thwarted as governor, Spitzer’s recklessness sloshed over into his personal life.
Aides were summoned to the apartment. “He told me, ‘I’m a moron. I’m a moron. I’m stupid,’” says one, who didn’t buy the explanation. “He knew what he was doing.”
By last Friday, when he read a New York Sun story detailing the Emperors Club VIP bust, Spitzer was so detached from reality that his reaction was, “Oh, that’s bad luck.” The same day, a Times reporter called his office; Spitzer instructed a spokesman to say he had nothing to do with the prostitution ring. The next day, the governor traveled to Washington once more, changing into a tuxedo in the men’s room of an Amtrak train for the annual Gridiron Club dinner, acting as if nothing were wrong. Back in New York, though, the Times was confirming the identity of Client 9. On Sunday afternoon, Spitzer finally told his wife, his daughters, and his parents the ugly truth. Or at least as much of it as he thought he needed to.
There had been hints of trouble beforehand. Sometimes Spitzer’s travel expenses greatly exceeded the normal cost of food and lodging. Maybe Spitzer was merely stocking up on hotel terry cloth bathrobes. But federal investigators are now trying to determine whether bills that now look suspicious were paid from Spitzer’s campaign accounts, or if he paid out of his own pocket for any illegal activities on road trips that seemed to be for speeches or fund-raisers.
“He likes girls,” an aide says with a shrug. “He’d notice a cute girl at a rally; he definitely has a type. But if you asked me to write 30 headlines that said what brings down Eliot Spitzer? Never in a million years.”
It remains unclear when and how Spitzer’s involvement with prostitutes began, one of many details only he knows. “He hasn’t told his wife the whole fuckin’ tale yet,” an exasperated friend said hours after Spitzer’s resignation. “There’s more.”
Many of Spitzer’s staffers have spent their entire adult working lives in his service. Last week, they were devastated. Many were seethingly angry. Everyone fixated on a different part of the bizarre tale, trying to make some sense of how Spitzer’s life had come unglued and taken theirs down with it.
“There’s something about making that girl get on a train,” said one adviser. “It seems so weird to me. I mean, there are hookers in Washington. Why did he need her to get on the train? There’s the control, making people go where you tell them. Or she was a regular. And nobody seems to know what the ‘unsafe’ is. It’s not just no condom. I don’t know what the hell it is, but that’s dumb. No guy in his right mind, even a self-destructive one, puts his dick in a hooker without a condom.”
Some resorted to black humor. “If I’d known about it, I would have stopped it,” a longtime Spitzer aide says. “Or made sure he didn’t get caught.”
“It was very funny,” says one Spitzer friend, “reading the affidavit from the woman. Client 9 was clearly Eliot. It was very much him, his personality: the micromanagement of what train she takes! The language! It was just spot-on.”
Older staffers tried to console the younger, brokenhearted Spitzer loyalists with reminders that all their work hadn’t been in vain. “It’s like I’ve had a heart attack and my heart is in pieces all over my chest cavity,” one Spitzer insider says. “This is particularly devastating for all the young campaign staffers who devoted years to him. I had someone call me this morning and say she’s devoted eight years of her life to him, and does this mean eight years of her life were meaningless? And all those brilliant assistant A.G.’s. It’s like in baseball. All those cases are going to have asterisks now: ‘Yeah, they did a brilliant case in the A.G.’s office, but it was under Eliot Spitzer, who at the time was going to prostitutes.’ And that’s terrible. The cases were not wrong. But now the bad guys feel vindicated.”