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The Governor and the Darkness

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Mostly, though, Spitzer’s top staffers and close friends tried—endlessly and fruitlessly—to answer why. “I don’t know that we need to overanalyze it,” a Spitzer appointee says. “At its base it’s an old story. The additional element here of Eliot having been a public scourge of wrongdoers adds a dramatic element, but the underlying story is a rather worn-out tale of public men getting caught.”

Others, though, felt terribly, personally betrayed. “All I know of him is the guy I’ve worked for for two years,” one high-ranking staff member says. “These past two days are completely disconnected from everything I’ve ever seen or heard or known. There wasn’t a sign, even looking back. You see the time lines in the papers of when the calls were made, and nobody knew. Even Friday—apparently he was contacted by the Feds, but I noticed no change. It seems so reckless to me that there’s gotta be some psychological rationale. There’s gotta be something wrong, mentally, that at the pinnacle of your career you’d engage in behavior like this at the same time as when you’re announcing a human-trafficking law.”

Another staffer wonders if a sense of entitlement sparked the misadventure. “Maybe he was talking to one of his rich pals who said, ‘What are you doing to blow off steam?’ And Eliot’s saying, ‘Oh, shit, I wish I could blow off more steam.’ And the guy said, ‘Well, I call hookers.’ ”

The logistical particulars of Spitzer’s sexcapades are beneath pulp fiction. “It looks like what he would do sometimes is rent another hotel room where he wasn’t staying,” the friend says. “For instance, if he’s staying at the Marriott, officially, then he’d book a room in somebody else’s name at a different hotel. And he’d have a driver other than the troopers come pick him up.” One Spitzer aide has heard that in Washington a “seedy guy” who fit Spitzer’s affinity for raffish companions helped to make the assignation arrangements. On the night of February 13, though, it was Spitzer himself playing the lowlife, skulking around D.C. looking for an ATM that would dispense enough cash to pay for his date with “Kristen.”

The next morning, February 14, there was a congressional hearing on the turbulence in bond-insurance markets. New York State’s insurance commissioner was scheduled to testify. But at the last minute, Spitzer insisted on testifying himself, too. His tie firmly knotted just as his father had taught him, racing through his words, Spitzer put on a vintage performance. But the committee members couldn’t hide their surprise at his visit. The governor thanked them and caught a plane back to New York.

Less than a month later, it all came apart. On Sunday, March 9, Spitzer e-mailed Rich Baum, who was in Albany, and told him to drive to Spitzer’s apartment at 985 Fifth Avenue immediately. Constantine was summoned. “He told me, ‘I’m a moron. I’m a moron. I’m stupid,’” says one aide, who didn’t buy the explanation or the self-pity. “He knew what he was doing.” Spitzer’s older brother, Daniel, a neurosurgeon, stopped by to offer support, but also may have contributed an inadvertent insight into his brother’s attitude, and perhaps the family’s pervading arrogance. “If men never succumbed to the attractions of women, then the human species would have died out a long time ago,” Daniel Spitzer told The Wall Street Journal.

“Eliot was very lucid when I talked to him that day,” says a political adviser, laughing darkly at how logical Spitzer seemed in the middle of a mess created by Spitzer’s irrationality. “Eliot was very clear: ‘Here’s my decision tree, here’s what I’m doing.’ Silda backed him off.” Two days later, impeachment looming, Spitzer quit.

The aide is less than charitable in describing Mrs. Spitzer’s initial reaction. “Silda probably thinks, ‘I could have just been a rich Park Avenue wife, or a big lawyer. Instead, I gave ten years of my life to this political bullshit, so you’re not going to just walk away.’ It was likely a combination of that and being completely delusional: ‘I’m married to the governor of New York, and he’s the greatest thing that ever happened to this state.’ She really wanted him to fight it out.”

As Spitzer’s life unraveled last week, many of his past pronouncements were turned back on him. Given the fact that Spitzer had used wiretaps and e-mails to trap Wall Street scoundrels and yet now was being snared by the very same techniques, one quote seemed particularly haunting and prophetic. Spitzer had once been asked what advice he’d give to aspiring cheaters. “Never talk when you can nod and never nod when you can wink and never write an e-mail because it’s death,” he said. “You’re giving the prosecutors all the evidence we need.”

Certainly those words, which Spitzer also used in speeches as a laugh line, look harshly ironic now. But there’s one additional twist: Spitzer stole the remark. He updated it by adding the warning about e-mail, but the originator, whom Spitzer never credited, was a legendary turn-of-the-twentieth-century Boston ward boss named Martin “the Mahatma” Lomasney. Now, of course, he is guilty of a whole lot worse than swiping an aphorism. A career of soaring successes and even greater promise ends with Spitzer a colossal failure—not simply as a governor, but as a man.

The day after his disgrace was complete and he’d announced his resignation, ceding power to Lieutenant Governor David Paterson, Eliot Spitzer, as if to assert his independence from the rules of the ordinary world, slipped his security detail again. For an hour, no one knew where he was. He’d disappeared into the darkness.

Additional reporting by Geoffrey Gray and Ira Boudway.


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