Carol’s multiple illnesses have been a centerpiece of their life together for a long time. That Hevesi strayed while an assemblyman even an aide acknowledges. “That happens in a lot of marriages,” says the aide, perhaps particularly when a wife is so ill. But that doesn’t alter the fact that when she needed him, Hevesi, no matter how busy he was, made sure to be there for her, insists the longtime aide. “My father just absorbs it,” says Andy, referring to his mother’s condition. “He’s always there no matter how tough it is for him. I’ve never seen someone be as loyal.”
Hevesi doesn’t mind being portrayed as a worried, protective husband. Perhaps, the implication is, his lapse can then be forgiven as human. “I don’t think the people of New York are going to want him thrown out because he tried to take care of his suicidal wife” is the way one Hevesi aide puts it.
But Kelley, a prosecutor like Spitzer, isn’t in the compassion business. “Many New Yorkers face similar unfortunate circumstances,” he noted, “and they do so without the benefit of a state employee” serving, as Kelly described it, as a personal aide. Whether or not Carol’s driver provided her security—he wasn’t trained to do so and didn’t carry a gun—he was a tremendous comfort to her and to her family. Carol could no longer drive herself. She told Hevesi she wanted a driver. He provided a sense of security and comfort as well as companionship.
There are plenty of examples of public officials’ using state cars for personal reasons, and making less-than-timely reimbursements. New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson is one. In November, it was reported that he repaid the city for nonbusiness use of a driver during the previous five years. Hevesi is another. When he was city comptroller, he repaid the city $6,439 after it was made public that a driver, in fact the same driver, then a city employee, had chauffeured Carol to appointments.
Kelley’s review of the facts, however, leads him to conclude that the comptroller had no intention of repaying the state, not until the news landed in the center of a political race. Kelley points out that no one kept records of when the driver performed non-security driving, which hardly suggests a concern for repayment. That Hevesi apologized for his “mistake” only makes it worse. Kelley reported to Pataki that he found “a valid legal basis” for asking the Senate to remove the comptroller.
“If this goes badly—and there are scenarios that aren’t good,” Andy Hevesi tells his father, “there’s life after this. Whether in politics or not.”
Yet here the real complications arise. The Senate has no established removal procedure. It’s never removed a statewide official. (Hevesi could be impeached. But impeachment charges are issued by the Assembly, so the proceedings would be dominated by a longtime admirer of Hevesi’s performance as well as his character, Assembly Speaker Silver.)
For Spitzer, the matter may be more complicated than he imagines. He is under the impression that the comptroller would resign rather than face a trial in the Senate, according to one Spitzer aide. If that isn’t true, if the heated talk from Hevesi’s camp is not a bluff, then things get knotty. In the Senate, a two-thirds majority is needed to remove an official. Republicans hold a six-seat majority there. Would they want to hand Spitzer a quick victory? Perhaps Majority Leader Joseph Bruno will prefer a more deliberative process, scheduling hearings, say, and, not incidentally, stalling Spitzer’s legislative agenda.
There is a further, and perhaps fatal, problem with a removal procedure. In 1987, Republican State Senator Michael Balboni co-authored a review of impeachment and removal procedures for the Fordham Urban Law Journal. The courts, Balboni discovered, have held that “if in the intervening election” the public has received “full disclosure of the misconduct,” then the election “is viewed as an exoneration.” Hevesi’s reelection, in other words, might launder his sins. Five million New Yorkers voted. Hevesi’s infraction was certainly well publicized; nearly every voter knew something about it. Thus the comptroller could go to court to block a removal process. “And then,” says one Hevesi aide gleefully, “it could take years to get a decision.” Imagine the resulting spectacle: Hevesi auditing Spitzer’s agencies while Spitzer is trying to remove him.
The odds may, in fact, favor Hevesi’s survival. Unless, that is, the comptroller is criminally indicted. Albany County district attorney David Soares, a young prosecutor with limited experience, has called witnesses to a grand jury, including Carol Hevesi’s driver. Soares is a Democrat (Hevesi endorsed him) who won his office two years ago with a promise to attack corruption. “What better way for an ambitious young prosecutor to make his mark?” asks one political insider. Still, to make a criminal charge stick, a prosecutor must prove criminal intent. Was Hevesi consciously evading payment? It’s a high threshold. And yet some in the comptroller’s staff now recall expressing concerns about Carol’s chauffeur. The ethics-commission report quoted an employee, Diana Hoffman, who’d also been an employee in Hevesi’s city comptroller’s office, asking the comptroller, “Do we want to do this again?” He didn’t respond, she said.