By sheer coincidence, Ed Pangburn had a chance to show his students history in the making.
Instead of a simple tour of the state Capitol Wednesday, the Fort Plain High School history teacher led his students through the fallout from Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s spectacular tumble.
“This is a great time to be a history teacher,” he said. “History is unfolding before us.”
As news of Spitzer’s imminent resignation spread through Albany, television crews surrounded the Capitol’s east park, turning the State Street hill into a studio for the third straight day. Inside the Capitol itself, reporters darted between a flurry of news conferences by ranking legislators immediately before and after the announcement.
Spitzer resignationTo watch Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s announcement of his resignation, click here. To view Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s resignation letter, click here. To watch state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno’s statement, click here. For an interactive presentation on the scandal that led to the resignation of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, click here.
The spectacle gave a dozen German exchange students a sense of what the seamy and frantic side of Albany politics can be like. The group was touring the state Senate Chambers when the governor made his announcement in New York City.
“We were with [Senate Majority Leader Joseph] Bruno’s aide and he was getting the information through his earpiece,” said Tom Bryson, a Schuylerville High School teacher who was chaperoning the students.
Pam Driscoll, another Schuylerville teacher, said the Germans were a bit overwhelmed. But she said her own students along on the tour got the sense they were a part of history in the making.
“It’s phenomenal that we were here in Albany today,” she said.
The atmosphere on the concourse of the Empire State Plaza was markedly different from the scene at the Capitol. Spitzer’s resignation seemed to take a back seat to lunch and business as usual.
Seniors Meagan Kane and Jillian Fredericks had just finished playing in the Fort Plain band as part of the Music in Our Schools concert series, when the news came. Though neither student noticed much of a reaction from their audience, they both felt privileged to be there on the historic occasion.
“Now we can say we were here in the Capitol when the governor resigned,” Frederick said.
Both were also shocked by the governor’s rapid fall. Kane had trouble fathoming how a politician who was overwhelmingly supported by voters so recently could end his tenure in such disgrace.
“He was on top of the hill,” she said. “And then to have it be so publicized.”
Outside the studios of NY1 on the South Concourse, a collection of state workers and onlookers gathered around a large-screen live broadcast of what could be Spitzer’s last speech as governor. One woman applauded as he announced his resignation.
Just a short distance away, vendors at the weekly farmers market were largely unaware. Paul Smith, an apple farmer from Hudson in Columbia County, only learned of the news from a customer.
“Otherwise, it seemed like a normal day in the concourse,” he said.
Chaz Martel, the owner of Blue Moon Acres in Greenfield Center, said the resignation still hadn’t sunk in with many daily workers in Albany.
“Right now, everybody that works here is in a state of shock and surprise,” he said.
Martel said Spitzer’s resignation shows how the line between a lawmaker’s personal morality is unfairly blurred with their political and business ethics. He also questioned how the scandal came to light.
“The finger is being pointed as a result of political motivations,” he said. “If he was a Republican, this wouldn’t be occurring.”
Nearby, Arthur Coleman of Just J Repairs expressed remorse. An advocate of Spitzer’s election-year message for change in Albany, the jewelry repairman said he and many other people in Albany were disappointed.
“Everybody feels really bad about it because we were all believers,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Saratoga Springs, the employees of The Local Pub & Teahouse tuned into Spitzer’s resignation speech before their lunch crowd arrived.
“He’s going to be remembered for this,” said bartender Jason Weaver after watching the announcement on television. “The last couple nights, it’s all they’ve talked about at the bar.”
General manager Mike Hall said the emotions on Spitzer’s fall are mixed. “Some people think it’s great because they hated him, and a lot of people are disappointed. A lot of people still don’t believe it,” Hall said.
It’s not just a story here. Hall said he checks out European newspapers on the Internet and was surprised to see many of them carry the Spitzer story on the front page.