Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer largely disappeared from public life after resigning in 2008. But with the premiere last month of Parker Spitzer on CNN, with journalist Kathleen Parker, he has returned.
On Nov. 18, Spitzer continued that re-entry into the public sphere, with a 90-minute conversation with Thane Rosenbaum, the John Whelan Distinguished Lecturer in Law and director of the Fordham Forum on Law, Culture and Society.
“A Conversation with Eliot Spitzer,” which took place at the Time Warner Center, touched on many of the subjects that brought Spitzer to the governor’s mansion—from financial reform to shaking up the political culture of Albany. Befitting his second professional life as a political commentator, Spitzer weighed in on the recent congressional election, and admitted that hosting a show is very different from being a guest.
“I have been referring to our guests as witnesses, and our conversations have been cross-examinations,” he said. “When I get home, my wife says, ‘Eliot, you’ve got to understand, this is not a court room.’ Our guests may feel they’re only given time for a sound bite, but I’m being taught to give them more space to answer. So it’s a slow learning curve.”
Speaking on the mid-term elections, the lifelong Democrat expressed sympathy for supporters of the Tea Party movement. Spitzer, a former attorney general whose nickname was the “Sheriff of Wall Street,” noted that of all the businesses that received government bailouts during the economic crisis of 2008, only General Motors was forced to accept new leadership.
The blame for that, he said, lies with Democratic Party leaders who let the Tea party emerge by allowing themselves become aligned with the status quo.
“When unemployment crept up, when people saw banks getting all the money, they saw the bonuses coming at Goldman Sachs, they said, ‘You are not changed.’ What Obama should have said [to the banks]was not, ‘I am the only one between you and the pitchforks.’ He should have said, ‘I’m holding the pitchfork.’”
Of Andrew Cuomo, New York’s next governor, Spitzer said he hopes Cuomo will focus on education and infrastructure. The challenges of the first can be seen in recent reports that average class size in New York City schools has, after a brief dip, increased again. On the latter, he called the cancellation of the ARC project by New Jersey governor Chris Christie an example of extraordinary short sightedness.
“It’s almost akin to deciding not to build the Erie Canal, and of course, we all know the historical consequences of those great infrastructures,” he said. “You must build out the infrastructure that permits the city to move forward.”
Spitzer grew less talkative about what he might have accomplished had he not been caught patronizing prostitutes, which led to his resignation. Noting that he had, to use a sports metaphor, “benched himself,” he agreed that it has been very hard to no longer have a say on issues of importance. He refused to dwell on it, though.
“Let me not say, ‘Gee, here’s what I would have done.’ Who knows? It’s very hard,” he said. “There’s fame, there’s infamy, there’s celebrity—they’re all different things and bring different upsides and downsides. I was listening to your introduction and you said that my life has never been dull. Dull looks pretty good sometimes.”
Given his passion and expertise for issues of national policy, Spitzer was asked whether United States citizens have the right to demand that elected officials lead exemplary, moral lives.
“Sure we do. Look, I’m not going to… I see an out here; I’m not going to take it. I’m not going to go in that direction,” Spitzer said.
“I’ll let other people comment on it. It’s not the right issue for me to comment on, because I don’t want to be seen as saying anything that is self-justifying or dodging of responsibility. So I’m just not going to go there.”