Much ado was made this morning over the way the other candidates turned against Hillary Clinton during last night's Democratic presidential debates. Obama and Edwards went after her so aggressively (especially regarding her refusal to clarify whether she supports Eliot Spitzer's licenses-for-illegal-immigrants plan) that Bill Richardson even said, “I’m hearing this holier-than-thou attitude toward Senator Clinton. It’s bothering me because it’s pretty close to personal attacks that we don’t need.” The question is, is this kind of response to Clinton's wide lead in the polls coming too late to do any good for her rivals? Having Obama and Edwards focus on her made her the star of the debate, even if she made some missteps. Just look at the Times ingenious "Transcript Analyzer" to see who managed to speak the most during the debate: Hillary got out 25 percent more words than anyone else and managed to insert herself most frequently. And just as her opponents started making her their main focus, she's shifting into general-election mode. Refusal to give a solid answer on a divisive issue like licenses for illegal immigrants is a move clearly designed to avoid offending both Republicans and Democrats. If Hillary continues to behave as though she's already won the primary, it's sure to make Obama and Edwards go even more ballistic. Which has us so excited, because nothing is more entertaining than watching a pretty boy stomp his feet.
A Pitched Debate: Clinton Hears It From Her Rivals [NYT]
Halle Berry apologized for making an anti-Semitic joke as a guest on the Leno show. (NBC deleted it from the telecast.) Governor Spitzer hung out with his Horace Mann classmates at his 30th reunion. Renée Zellweger chooses to live in New York and Connecticut instead of L.A. because she hates the paparazzi out there. (She and George Clooney also send each other six-page politically charged e-mails.) Jennifer Lopez is refusing to pay a New York limo company $16,000 in fees she owes. The Devil Wears Prada producer Wendy Finerman bought a twelve-room duplex on 84th Street with her banker husband. Jay-Z says he's not so good at retiring and blames the media for the breakup of most celebrity couples. Meryl Streep walked her puppy on the West Side Highway in sweats and a hat. Soap star Nathaniel Marston of One Life to Live was arrested for assaulting three people on Tenth Avenue in what was evidently a drug-fueled rage.
"I think that Eliot Spitzer will turn out to be a very good governor of this state," said Mayor Bloomberg at a news conference this afternoon, where he denied again he was seeking higher office. "He’s had his teething problems," he said, "as everybody does when they come into office." Aw. All Spitzer needs is a zwieback cracker and a little chuck under the chin, right? Too bad Bloomberg's probably not going to be the one to give it to him. We all know how he feels about babies.Another Day at the Same Office For Bloomberg [City Room/NYT]
Related: Bloomberg's Mommy Issues
For the past few weeks, we've been hearing what everybody else in Albany thinks of Eliot Spitzer's political moves. His efforts to undermine Joe Bruno by catching him misusing state helicopters or not paying all of his taxes are "dirty tricks" and "smear tactics." But what is the governor thinking about all of this? "Obviously, things haven't worked out precisely as I had planned," says Spitzer. Well, not Spitzer actually, but New York Sun reporter Jacob Gershman, who pens an essay today from the governor's point of view. When we saw the headline, we were expecting something fun and funny, but Gershman's essay turns out to be a sober, well-thought-out analysis of what Spitzer's probably thinking. So logical, in fact, that we're surprised by the end to realize the simplicity of the problem Spitzer's made up for himself.
Joe Bruno and Eliot Spitzer ran into each other yesterday at a memorial service for firefighters in Albany. It was the first time they had seen each other since their fight over the summer, and as you can see, Bruno acted really grown up about it. Honestly. Even Justin Timberlake and Cameron Diaz had more class when they ran into each other at the Kids Choice Awards, and that was an awkward situation.
Village Voice vet Wayne Barrett finally lets loose on the lame “Troopergate” scandal with a withering cover feature that, frankly, made us a bit nostalgic for the alterna-weekly's better days. Joe Bruno, of course, is overzealously pursuing Eliot Spitzer for overzealously pursuing Joe Bruno, and, legislatively speaking, zilch is getting done as a result. To Barrett, it's a GOP smear campaign pure and simple, with the bonus effect of keeping the spotlight off Bruno (who probably did abuse his airplane privileges). “The Republicans are trying to depict Spitzer as a tyrant who will use police powers to silence or defeat them,” he writes, “and they couldn't be happier to have [Andrew] Cuomo as their witness and cheerleader.”
It seems there's more bad news for Eliot Spitzer, who's steadfastly refusing to admit that righteous fury isn't getting him the same dividends it used to. “No amount of hysterical rhetoric will prevent us from doing what is right,” Spitzer said last night at Fordham University, defending both his driver's-licenses for-illegal-immigrants plan and a boost in state health insurance for children; sadly, his own penchant for hysterical rhetoric (like, let's see, calling Bloomberg wrong five times in one sentence) appears to be tripping him up at every turn. Spitzer's approval rating is down to an all-time low of 47 percent — that's from 61 percent just eight months ago. Judging by the numbers only, one would think the state were in some sort of nightmarish free fall, but no — it all appears to be the fallout from the idiotic altercation with Joe Bruno. Seventy-eight percent of voters want the governor to testify under oath on the matter, and a majority wants the probe stepped up. But lo! In the midst of all this, a shady Bruno associate might've provided just the opening Spitzer needs to justify another over-the-top caricature of his enemies.
When the Observerwitnessed Governor Eliot Spitzer allegedly snubbing Attorney General Andrew Cuomo yesterday by walking out of a State Democratic Party meeting without saying hello to him, we thought it was a little bit of a stretch to say that the two were having a tiff. Cuomo was quick to downplay it, too, telling the reporters after the event, "I don't think there is a rivalry." But then today, Spitzer really threw it down. When asked by reporters whether he was "friends" with the Cuomo, he replied, "I have lots of friends." Now some people may not think that answer carries particular meaning. Those people never participated in the cultural phenomenon we like to call "middle school." For the rest of us, Spitzer might as well have dropped trou and mooned Cuomo for the cameras. "Maybe they're more like Facebook friends," Times scribe Nicholas Confessore mused. To which we ruminate, "Maybe this whole mess is about to get way more awesome."
Maybe They're More Like Facebook Friends [City Room/NYT]
So there's finally an all-out fight between Bloomberg and Spitzer. (Their boss Shelly Silver is not going to be happy!) As you may have heard at some point just before dozing off, the pretext is, oddly enough, illegal immigration, on which Bloomberg is fairly liberal. (Granted, it's hard to run New York and be hawkish on immigration. Even Giuliani knew that.) Under Spitzer's new initiative, illegal aliens will be able to get New York State driver's licenses by producing a foreign passport. Early Thursday, Bloomberg objected to the idea on the reasonable-sounding grounds that it may devalue the NYS driver's license to the point that it won't be accepted as an ID for air travel. The upside: Later the same day, Spitzer blew his top in a vintage, pre-Troopergate fashion — on a visit to an elementary school, no less. “[Bloomberg] is wrong at every level,” the governor said in front of what we'd like to imagine was a classful of frightened children but was actually a gaggle of reporters. “Dead wrong, factually wrong, legally wrong, morally wrong, ethically wrong.”
Is Andrew Cuomo already falling victim to his own hubris? The attorney general earned some serious integrity points when he went after Spitzer for the governor's alleged misuse of state troopers in pursuing Joe Bruno. Now, with two of Spitzer's top aides out and the State Senate GOP increasingly subpoena-happy, the case is beginning to seem like self-admiring nitpicking on Cuomo's part. Glenn Valle, the counsel to the state-police chief and current hot-seat occupant Preston Felton, is calling parts of the A.G.'s original report “very misleading or outright wrong.” Even worse, this largely petty skirmish — what are we going to do, impeach Spitzer? Jail Bruno? Publicly hang Darren Dopp and call it a day? — is paralyzing Albany in exactly the ways the administration swore it wouldn't. But Cuomo isn't done yet.
If you think the State Senate has backed off the Spitzer-Bruno dogfight ever since Roger Stone made an unbelievable idiot out of himself (and spoiled Frost/Nixon for the rest of us), you're sorely mistaken. Judging from the few recent developments, we suspect the Albany Republicans are just getting started. Senators are expected to vote today to subpoena State Police superintendent Preston Felton, a figure central to the accusations against Spitzer (which, for those of us who prefer not to litter our brains with such trivia, involve the gov's using state troopers to spy on Joe Bruno's use of state helicopters). No acting NYS top cop has ever been subpoenaed before. Once they're done with Felton, the GOP panel is planning to give the same treatment to Richard Baum and Darren Dopp, the two former Spitzer aides who refused to testify under oath earlier.
So much for the selfless gesture (read public-relations move) that Hillary Clinton and other politicians who accepted donations from disgraced fund-raiser Norman Hsu thought they were going to make by donating the money to charity! The Journal today reports that a judge has ordered Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, Andrew Cuomo, and State Representative Kirsten Gillibrand to hang on to the money, since it probably belongs to the investors Hsu was bilking for his possibly nonexistent menswear business, and said investors have now filed suit to get it back. But oops! Gillibrand has already given her chunk of Hsu change to the Anderson School, a school for autistic children upstate! Now that’s a sticky situation. Does she gracefully accept the total loss of $25K, or does she take the money back from the poor autistic kids? We eagerly await word on who else dropped the dirty cash like a hot potato, and who will subsequently be forced to tell the disadvantaged to go screw themselves.
*Sorry, but we just can’t get enough of the puns.
Fund Manager Files Suit in Hsu Donor Case [WSJ]
Scanning through the 9/11 coverage today, we found it hard not to notice a dominant trend: We're moving on. The Times puts up a story about Mayor Bloomberg playing psychologist to a cheering city. The Post's main story focuses on families setting up homes downtown and making lower Manhattan a "Verve Center." Channel 4 and NPR ran upbeat interviews with Eliot Spitzer, Jon Corzine, and George Pataki about the development downtown. Notably, only the Daily News chose to wallow — respectfully printing all of the names of the dead but also neglecting to publish one word about the recovery of the site and the neighborhood. For details on memorial services throughout the day, see here.
Today disgraced GOP consultant Roger Stone tried to take his lemons and make, well, sour grapes. On his Website, "The Stone Zone" (yep, that's right), he posts a review of the show Frost/Nixon. You know, the one he was supposedly attending the night he allegedly made deranged phone calls to Eliot Spitzer's dad? Yeah, the play that he actually couldn't have seen because it was dark that night. Well, anyway, he did see it, and he has this to say: "I highly recommend the play to Governor Eliot Spitzer because it underlines the dangers hubris and the inexorable web a public official tangles himself in when he tells a lie. Since the play has closed I hope the Governor can catch a revival." Well. It took him three weeks to come up with that spin? Let's hope the Republicans weren't paying him that much.
Roger Stone: The Stone Zone [Official Site] via [Gawker] and [Room8]
Earlier:Roger Stone's Alibi: No ‘Frost/Nixon’ on Monday Nights
• The New York region has the nation's widest gap between rich and poor, new Census figures show, with the richest fifth of Manhattanites earning $351,333 a year to the poorest fifth's $8,855. We expect the revolution imminently. [NYT]
• More than a week after the Deutsch Bank blaze killed two firefighters, three FDNY honchos have been reassigned for failing to regularly inspect the building or come up with a plan to fight a fire there. [NYT]
Once upon a time, Charlie Rangel was the kind of entrenched political boss reformer Eliot Spitzer was trying to remove from the conversation. And once upon a time, Spitzer was the kind of steamrolling, prosecutorial, holier-than-thou Ivy Leaguer Rangel snidely termed "the smartest man in the world." Spitzer ditched Rangel's lieutenant-governor suggestion at last minute; Rangel dubbed Spitzer's plan to reduce health-care costs "disastrous." Now the two are about to step into a joint press conference to present a plan to protect health care for children. Strange bedfellows, indeed. What gives? According to a source close to Spitzer, making nice with Rangel is part of the embattled governor's plan to reach out to old foes and shore up his political backing. "The governor is now looking to places where he never used to for support," the source says. And Rangel sees Spitzer's problems as presenting an opportunity to get a deal he likes, a source close to Rangel says. "The governor is certainly in need of some friends right now," the source says. In exchange for political cover, Rangel is looking to pick up "chits," the Rangel source says. "There are a lot of projects in New York that Charlie cares about, and I'm sure the governor is taking that into account." —Geoffrey Gray
So what has Bruno-trooper aircraft-abuse-of power-gate taught Eliot Spitzer? That it might be worth it to, uh, get some advice. (Breakthrough!) According to today's Times, the Steamroller, in an atypical move, has started taking counsel from people other than his usual yesmen. Who are the éminences grises to whom he's speaking? Real-estate heavyweight Jerry Speyer, Republican and former Bruno aide Abraham M. Lackman, and beloved former Clinton Treasury secretary Bob Rubin — who, judging from the accompanying picture on the Times site has recently picked up a très hip pair of heavy-rimmed, almost Mike Nichols–ish spectacles. Rich, Jewish, and now a foxy silver fox? Grr, Mr. Rubin. Grr.
Rethinking Bold Style, Spitzer Gets New Advice [NYT]
• Oh, boy. We know this isn't Gotham-specific, but Attorney General Albert Gonzales, after months of pressure to resign in the face of possible perjury charges, has finally done so. Adios, Bushito (as they used to call him Texas). [Newsday]
• GOP consultant Roger Stone resigned his job with the state Republican Party over that call to Pa Spitzer, but he still maintains — busted alibi and all — that Democratic operatives may have just broken into his house and made the call from his phone while using some kind of high-tech device to impersonate his voice. Ya-huh. [NYT]