When Eliot Spitzer stepped down as Governor, all of City Hall had a meltdown.
It was 2008, and I was a college student interning at the Mayor’s press office. I had to be there early, and I mean early — 5:30 a.m., no excuses. Press briefings were created and run around City Hall for every single staffer before they got to work. It’s dark and lonely down there in the Financial District that early, so I used to carry a mini Minor League baseball bat.
It usually wasn’t until 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. that people started filling into City Hall for work, and to be honest there was no sign that this Friday would be unlike any other Friday.
That was, of course, til the end of my shift (around 9:30/10) when Governor Spitzer announced that he would be stepping down.
I clearly remember someone bursting into our office and having freaking out — “is he trying to ruin the Democratic party?” I heard a staffer say. No obviously not, but it definitely had serious consequences for the Mayor’s agenda in NYC, and of course, the two politicians were (are?) friends and neighbours.
If you’re not familiar with New York politics it’s hard to understand the madhouse Spitzer had managed to navigate. The New York State Assembly was, and still is, firmly in the grip of Majority Leader Sheldon Silver, a Democrat. The Senate, on the other hand, always the wildcard of the two houses, was controlled by Republican Joe Bruno.
It was Bruno who tussled with Spitzer the most. He was a former campaign staffer to Nelson Rockefeller, boxer, and state politician from the year 1976. Spitzer had launched three investigations against the Bruno, and the pair were famous for their screaming matches.
Here’s a famous knock-down-drag-out they had documented in New York Magazine:
Bruno says he just kept hitting back. “ ’You know what your problem is? You’re a spoiled brat, an arrogant kid that never got over the fact that when you don’t get what you want you have a tantrum.’ And you know what he does next? He runs out of his own office! I’m thinking, Jesus, where the hell is he going?” When Spitzer returned, the shouting continued. Then Spitzer left again. “Now I’m thinking, Jeez, there’s something wrong with this guy. He’s shouting, screaming until he’s purple. He’s 8 years old.” Spitzer returned for a final time. Bruno remembers his orders from Spitzer: “Get out of here!”
Spitzer’s spokeswoman, Christine Anderson, says Bruno’s recollection is “totally false, and with each retelling his story becomes more embellished.”
With Spitzer giving the notoriously combative Bruno a run for his money in Albany, the Democrats believed 2008 was going to be there election year. The Republicans were finally looking vulnerable in the Senate, having lost four seats in four years.
For City Hall that meant perhaps finally having an edge in the infamous Upstate-Downstate rivalry that New York State is so famous for. For Mayor Bloomberg to pass some measures he really wanted (like, congestion pricing for motorists coming into the city) he needed state approval. Upstate (mostly Republican) politicians often butt-heads with Downstate politicians and their policies. Spitzer “The Steamroller” was seen as a guy that could make that easier.
So when he went down, it was a massive loss.
The proof of that, also, was in the pudding. The Democrats went on to take the Senator majority in 2008, only to lose it in a matter of months when one freshman Democrat, Hiram Monserrate was charged with attacking his girlfriend with broken glass.
Like I said, madhouse. Bruno, for the record, stepped down after Spitzer. He was later convicted of Federal corruption charges, though he never served time.
On top of all of that the state’s budget was running a massive deficit after the financial crisis, and Spitzer’s blind lieutenant, David Paterson, had to deal with that as the Senate run amok, switching leadership left and right. Paterson was never expected to govern.
If Spitzer wants to run for a wider office than Comptroller — one that requires more than his own money — he’s going to have to mend a lot of fences in his own party, not just on the state level but on the city level.
His ousting broke a lot of hearts.
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