Eliot Spitzer, the scourge of Wall Street, crashed out of politics in 2008 after a sex scandal. Could he make a comeback?by Hephzibah Anderson / May 24, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Eliot Spitzer has been taking chess lessons. He has the time for such things these days. It might seem that teaching, writing an online column and working at the family real estate business, not to mention hosting a live television show each weeknight, would leave the father of three with scant opportunity to indulge in hobbies. But Spitzer has proven himself notoriously good—or bad, given how it all ended—at multitasking, having formerly spent his days as the headline-grabbing, opinion-splitting governor of New York state and more than a few nights as Client Nine of the Emperor’s Club VIP prostitution ring.
His marriage has survived but those private transgressions cost him his public office. Since his resignation in 2008, he has found desk space at Spitzer Engineering, the property firm built by his father Bernard. It’s here that I’ve come to meet him early on a muggy Monday in May. Located on the 22nd floor of a midtown block on Fifth Avenue, it’s just another gold-lettered door in a thickly carpeted hallway. Within, an architectural model is the only identifying detail in a modest lobby that might easily belong to a dentist or a doctor. In the life and times of Eliot Spitzer, this is a colossal comedown. The receptionist doubles as his assistant.
In this city whose minutes pass with such fabled celerity, he is still seen as the state’s disgraced Democratic governor more than four years after he was found to have been frequenting prostitutes and became the “luv guv” of tabloid sensation. Nobody is willing to overlook his tumble from grace, but nor can they forget the glittering promise of his political career. As governor—and before that, attorney general—Spitzer was a crusader, championing a wealth of causes from the environmental and the educational to the electoral. And then there was his war on crony capitalism.
“I wasn’t tough enough,” the man once known as “the Hammer of Wall Street” now says. Using a dusty, forgotten law called the Martin Act, pursuing antitrust suits and suing high-profile figures including the former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, his tactics divided people. He didn’t win a single case but then many were settled long before trial, thanks partly to the threat of lengthy, expensive legal cases in a state where white-collar jails are non-existent, and to his ability to mobilise public outrage through the media. What’s not debatable is his prescience. Within months of Spitzer’s downfall, the financial world came tumbling down alongside him. His media career ensures he retains a platform with a fortnightly column on Slate.com and television shows first on CNN and now on Current TV, but it’s the ongoing financial turbulence that makes people listen and keeps him relevant.