Voters go to the polls Sept. 10 in New York state primaries. New York City is where the action is. Several contests will have far-reaching repercussions outside the city. Upstate voters have a stake in the outcome of one contest in particular: the Democratic primary for New York City comptroller.
Like it or not, ethical behavior in the New York City world has a way of trickling upstate. The tone for the state's public institutions, especially the Legislature, is set in New York City.
Let me say it right from the start: I would rather elect leaders with fragile private lives, but who nevertheless stand for clean public institutions, than I would elect holier-than-thou private Puritans who accept legalized bribes from special interests and who pretend not to see corruption in our public and private institutions. By this less than perfect Puritan standard, Eliot Spitzer is my kind of guy.
The insider elites don't trust him. That is a good thing.
I'll take Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Catherine the Great and Franklin Delano Roosevelt any day over the likes of Sarah Palin, Margaret Thatcher, Eleanor Roosevelt or the Apostle Peter, people whose private lives were not opened to public scrutiny by forces that wanted to humiliate them.
Eliot Spitzer is a very different political creature than is Anthony Weiner (another sex-scandalized politician who is now running for mayor of New York City) in the fact that Spitzer has demonstrated a record of actual accomplishment in public service. Mr. Spitzer's ego may or may not be large, but at least the former governor has channeled his ego and brains into valuable public service. Spitzer actually stands for public accountability, and therefore for public values, through his past actions as state attorney general.
Media morality attacks against big alpha male targets have gradually become a colossal bore. The measure of the leader is not in their private life, but their public service record. On the whole, though, it needs to be said that the muddling of the private life and public life has been used too often as a platform to cannibalize some of our best public service talent. That the only ones being cannibalized seem to be males, not females, is another whole matter, perhaps better subject for pathologists of the collective mentality. Not for me, here.
The clearest sign that the insider elites are threatened by the prospect of Spitzer as city comptroller is the fact that the three main New York City newspapers are against him. In fact, the two down-market tabloids have been engaging in a scurrilous campaign of defamation on their front pages.
The prospect of Spitzer in the oversight saddle in New York City has apparently provoked some panic among the corrupt insider elites. After all, Spitzer has already amply demonstrated a gleeful eagerness for trying to hold self-serving insiders accountable for potentially criminal activities. Moreover, Spitzer is clever and persistent. Special interests can't control him easily.
Partners against corruption
That is a good sign. The prospect of Eliot Spitzer in the city working closely with state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and with state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who has already shown signs of independence from Cuomo Jr.'s agenda, is extremely promising for opponents of the corrupt status quo.
For anyone who despises the insider's game in the political, financial and corporate world, Spitzer is our guy all the way. He is the best and smartest we have on our side. Similar to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Spitzer's personal fortune gives him a refreshing degree of autonomy in dealing with insider elites — those insiders who some of us believe are up to their smiling teeth in conscious, and even unconscious, corruption. Some of the top insiders in the financial pecking order — for example, the bosses at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase — have evidently lost perspective to the point that they believe financial corruption is just a normal part of doing business. Then, there is all that corporate tax evasion and public money giveaways to private interests at the public expense.
A good strong dose of Spitzer is just what is needed. The insiders won the first round on a scummy "got him" trick. It was almost a knockout blow well beneath the belt, but Spitzer is on his feet again and it is now Round 2.
Should we care if his private life is not up the standard of his public service?
I'm in favor of letting Silda Spitzer decide if he has private values worth salvaging. Apparently she has decided he does. That's enough for me. Public accountability and private life relationships are not the same thing.
I'll back the public person who has already scored points for public integrity, instead of public figures who take special-interest money as legalized bribes for insider deals. The public interest needs people like Eliot Spitzer, even if he is imperfect in his private life. Even if he violates — through a personal weakness — some public Puritan taboo in his private life.
For those of us who despise the self-serving insider's action inside our institutions, Spitzer is our man all the way. This is the main issue in the upcoming primary on Tuesday. Do we get someone who has the track record to serve the public interest or do we get more of the same: mere players looking for entry into the insider's game through the ballot box.
L.D. Davidson lives in Amsterdam. He is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.