Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer returned to Albany Sunday, appearing before a friendly crowd of WAMC radio supporters.
The disgraced politician, once known as the Sheriff of Wall Street, took questions from an audience of about 100 at WAMC’s The Linda Norris Auditorium in a 90-minute event that was moderated by WAMC personality Alan Chartock. The event served as a fundraiser for the radio station, with two tickets costing $100.
Topics ranged from the funding of public radio, hydrofracking, the performance of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the 2016 presidential election and Spitzer’s future political ambitions, which he would not describe. Spitzer, who now has a television show on Current TV and walks his family dog, said, “I love what I do now.”
His repeated deferrals on the question of running for office again didn’t stop one member of the crowd from submitting a remark that Spitzer should be president, which drew a loud round of applause from the crowd.
In assessing the tenure of Cuomo, whom Spitzer has criticized in the press, he chose not to grade the governor’s first 22 months in office. Spitzer commended Cuomo for pushing marriage equality, even though he felt this progress was inevitable, and was critical of the governor’s compromise on redistricting. For the most part, though, Spitzer didn’t want to talk about Cuomo’s decisions, noting that he either wasn’t familiar with the specifics of certain situations or simply didn’t want to comment.
If he was governor now, Spitzer said he would be investing more of the state’s resources in education, especially in the public college system. The focus on education was an area in which he felt his brief administration had been successful, arguing that resources had been shifted toward needier schools.
Touching on the often-speculated prospect that Cuomo will be a presidential candidate in 2016, Spitzer would only say that he supports New York’s former U.S. Senator and current U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He predicted that if she runs, barring the presence of Vice President Joe Biden, all the other Democratic candidates would probably pass on running and Clinton would win the party’s nomination without a serious fight.
Spitzer announced his own trepidation surrounding fracking, which he described as an extremely “tempting” prospect considering the employment and energy possibilities. Ultimately he was highly skeptical of the technique, citing the potential environmental and health dangers. Because President Barack Obama has endorsed fracking, he stressed the need for federal regulations in this industry.
The former governor didn’t just take positions that lined up with the crowd, as he announced his support for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United regarding campaign spending, which was in line with his position on defending free speech. “I think they got it right and I know [no one] in this room agrees with me,” Spitzer said, contending it was wrong to silence any speech. He added that lax limitations on political contributions should be accompanied with strict disclosure requirements.
Additionally, Spitzer told the fans of public radio that he wouldn’t be dissatisfied if Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney got his way and government money was no longer used to subsidize public radio and television.
Spitzer also took a turn as political prognosticator, predicting that the state Senate will remain in the hands of the Republicans, Obama will get a second term and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will get her first full term.
Regarding the state Senate, he talked about his own battle to swing the body Democratic. He explained that while he liked former Majority Leader Joe Bruno, R-Brunswick, who often butted heads with him, his motivation was to create a chamber that would work with him on his policy priorities. Now that Cuomo is dealing with the Republican Senate, Spitzer said it is harder to advance certain priorities, like raising the state’s minimum wage.
Spitzer said he supported the minimum wage hike and acknowledged that it might need to be tied to a pay raise for state legislators if they want to pass it in 2012.