Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer Paperback – Oct 6 2010
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"Narrator Arthur Morey provides a smooth, unadorned rendering of a complex story. Eventually, Morey fades to the background as the sad drama that leads to disgrace takes center stage." ---AudioFile --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
About the Author
Peter Elkind is an award-winning investigative reporter and the author of The Death Shift. He has written for The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Fortune, and Texas Monthly.
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The Spitzer story may have seemed like daily news fodder when it broke. But there was a deeper story here. Peter Elkind, a financial reporter who wrote a good book about the Enron debacle, now makes a fine case for taking the time to go back to the beginning and scope out the whole tale. Spitzer was an iconoclastic, caustic politician. He came out of an intense upper-crust New York family with a superhuman need to succeed. Early on, he was an unlikely politician - awkward, impatient, arrogant. He found his calling as the state's Attorney General, attacking financial practices that everyone thought were untouchable. If he was overzealous and stubborn and unreasonable, voters didn't care. The public hunger for a political leader who could Get Things Done pushed his popularity ever upward. He coasted to victory as Governor. There was talk, and not a small amount, of a first Jewish President.
We like to watch them climb, and man, do we love to see them fall. Elkind covers the bumpy governorship well. He carefully tracks the origins of the Empress Club V.I.P. He explains the sequences of discovery by the media with knowing skill. The one mystery he cannot crack is who fed the Feds the original, critical tip that started their investigation that intentionally targeted Spitzer. There are obvious candidates - Hank Greenberg, Ken Langone, Dick Grasso - but no resolution here. Elkind judges evidence well, and is straightforward about what he could not decipher, and that makes his account stronger. Spitzer himself cooperated with Elkind, talking at length. But he's so allergic to introspection that I was left wondering, and still intrigued, what actually made him do it.
Elliot's father, Bernie Spitzer, was quoted as stating "I play to kill" and fought authority throughout his career. His friends state Bernie raised Eliot to be a "warrior". Eliot attended Princeton where he put together a campus-wide toga party in addition to creating the jocular Antarctica Liberation Front. The group though did declare that student participation on university committees were designed to minimize recommendations from students.
Eliot married Silda Wall, who was unhappily married when she met Eliot. Spitzer became a prosecutor who indicted several organized crime leaders. Spitzer used undercover agents, sting operations, and installing listening devices into Gambino crime organization offices. A high profile trial led to a plea bargain when those accused ended their allegedly illegal operations, paid $12 million in fines, and served no prison time. This did cause an immediate crippling change in mob businesses.
Spitzer then spent 18 months in private practice before deciding to run for Attorney General. His wife was surprised he sought public office before their children were grown. His wife gave birth to their third child five days after he announced his candidacy.
Spitzer self-financed his own campaign. He was in a primary against Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes and former State Sen. Karen Burstein. Spitzer, who had never run for office before, was not well know politically. Spitzer insisted the hundreds of temporary employees hired to gather signatures to put him on the ballot all produced, as required under the law, three forms of identification. He insisted his campaign follow all the rules.
Spitzer ran as a centrist, favoring the death penalty and charging more juveniles as adults. His man political asset was his recent prosecutions against organized crime.
Dick Morris, who usually was a political advisor to Republicans but also advised Bill Clinton, was Spitzer's main political advisor. Morris was disliked by many Democrats so his role was mostly kept quiet. Dick Morris is not listed as being a client of Dick Morris on Spitzer's campaign records. Payments were made to consultant Hank Sheinkopf who subcontracted his work, off the record, to Morris. Spitzer financed his own campaign, although some accuse him of receiving money from his father. Spitzer finished fourth in the 1994 Democratic Primary at 18% while spending $3.9 million, or $30 per vote. The primary winner Karen Burstein spent one tenth as much. Burstein, who is openly gay, lost the general election to Dennis Vacco.
Spitzer joined a law firm that let him take time to plan another campaign. He drove 70,000 miles across the state talking over the next four years. He employed former Democratic State Chairman John Marino. Spitzer, his family, and his campaign contributed $300,000 to fellow New York Democrats. Many he assisted later endorsed him for Attorney General. He won the 1998 Attorney General Democratic primary.
Spitzer created the Center for Community Interest, which declared it would defend against "civil liberties demands". Spitzer claimed the political center with such moves. After winning the primary, Spitzer attacked Vacco for removing 140 lawyers with experience and replacing them with people with political connections. Vacco removed a ban against job hiring discrimination against homosexuals. Spitzer accused Vacco of not fighting for consumers. Spitzer ran an TV ad attacking Vacco's Chief Deputy for failing the bar exam seven times.
Dick Morris advised the 1998 Spitzer campaign. He was paid $175,000. The campaign ended with a $12.2 million debt. It was determined that, despite his denials, that some funds he spent on his campaign which he claimed was his money included some funds from family members. The law allows unlimited self-financing but limits funds from others, including family members. Spitzer's aides wanted Spitzer to admit his father was providing the legal limit he could contributed at $353,000. Spitzer declined, preferring not to have people know he was getting financial help from his father. He finally admitted that his family helped before the election. Spitzer narrowly defeated Vacco by 25,186 votes out of 4.3 million votes cast.
Spitzer saw the Attorney General as having a large stake in public interest and combating injustice. Employers not paying the minimum wage were hit with suits. Restaurant hires that discriminated against women were sued. New York City's intention to end over 100 community gardens was halted. His office went after stock manipulators, got Merrill Lynch to settle for a $100 million fine, and they went after other Wall Street manipulators.
Under Spitzer, the Attorney General's offices went after fraud in the mutual fund industry, leading to a 6% reduction in fees that saved investors $1.5 billion.
Spitzer ran for Governor in 2006. Meanwhile, his Attorney General's office investigated American International Group, worth $156 billion, for fraud. The head of AIG, Hank Greenberg and fellow billionaire friend Ken Langone, publically threatened to destroy Spitzer. It was believed that would raise tens of millions of dollars for his political opponent. Opposition research teams researched in search of anything embarrassing against Spitzer. Greenberg's foundation donated $10 million to the New School and its President, former Senator Bob Kerrey, who spoke out publically against Spitzer for attacking Greenberg in the press rather than in court.
The Attorney General's office went after ten large scale prostitution rings, leading to imprisonment of the owner.
Several Harlem political bosses, including Secretary of State Basil Patterson, backed Leela Eve, an attorney, for Lieutenant Governor. Spitzer did not like anyone dictating to him, but he also didn't want to offend the African America community that was partly led by the Harlem bosses. Spitzer instead picked State Sen. David Patterson, Basil's son, as his running mate. Eve withdrew.
Spitzer had a skeleton. He saw high paid prostitutes. Several political opponents sought to find evidence of sexual impropriety but nothing surface during the 2006 campaign. Spitzer won 69.6% of the primary vote and 81% of the general election vote.
The New York legislature is considered dysfunctional. Many state legislative issues were made by agreement between the Republican Senate Majority Leader, the Democratic House Speaker, and the Governor. The legislative leadership directed more legislation and legislative staff hiring. This leadership decided how much in grants each legislator could be awarded to organizations supported by the legislature. Senate Republicans and staff gave themselves 800 Capitol parking spaces while giving Senate Democrats 30 parking spaces. Legislators were not legally required to disclose outside income. Senators were advised to hand deliver their ethics statements rather than mail them to avoid any possible Federal mail fraud charges.
Spitzer distrusted the legislature and told them so. They elected a fellow legislator as State Comptroller over a list of three selected by a panel Spitzer helped create. Spitzer called their actions "a stunning lack of integrity". Spitzer then attacked by name some Democratic legislators who had supported him and canceled a fundraiser for legislative Democrats. Spitzer called for Speaker Sheldon Silver , a Democrat, to disclose his outside income as an attorney. Legislators were very upset and Spitzer in return.
Health care accounted for $46 billion of New York's $120 billion budget. Health care costs were increasing 8% annually. Funding formulas sent funds to underserved hospitals and nursing homes while outpatient clinics and home healthcare were underfunded. The Hospital Association and its labor component SEIU Local 1199 agreed on increasing health care spending. Local 1199 was closely allied with Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican. Spitzer proposed holding the increase on health care spending to 2%, which meant cutting health care by $1.3 billion. Spitzer then proposed using the funds for health insurance for 400,000 uninsured children, increasing funds to low income school districts, and cutting property taxes.
Bruno and the Republican majority in the Senate sought to scale back the health care costs Spitzer wanted. Silver and the Democratic majority in the House sided towards Spitzer. A compromise was reached that put back $350 million in cuts Spitzer had wanted to hospitals and nursing homes, allowed $1 billion in cuts Spitzer wanted, provided more funds to poorer school districts, and provided $200 million to wealthier school districts in Long Island represented by Republican legislators. The budget increased 7.3%, or twice the inflation rate. The budget process continued being negotiated in private, angering groups that had hoped Spitzer would deliver on his promise to open the negotiations for public review.
Spitzer proposed lowering the $55.800 limit a donor could contribute to a statewide candidate. This was the nation's highest state limit. Spitzer publicly criticized the legislature for pork spending projects. He attacked
Senators when they missed meetings. The legislature, in return, increased its opposition to Spitzer.
State aircraft are available for state business use. Bruno often used planes. Spitzer's office required that state aircraft be used for "more than predominately" state purposes, since it was possible to use the aircraft for a short state use meeting and then attended a political or personal meeting. Bruno refused to submit itineraries, citing separation of powers between the legislature and administration. Spitzer chose not to press this issue and allowed Bruno use of the plane. The press discovered many of the flights were primarily to attend political functions.
The press reported Spitzer used State Police surveillance of Bruno. This spying became a press scandal facing Spitzer. It is noted that both of the scandals, Bruno's flights nor Spitzer's tracing of Bruno may have been legal. Yet much of the press and public found it troubling. The Attorney General recommended settling the issue by increasing the requirements for plane use.
It became known that Spitzer was wiring money without disclosing who was being paid. He also asked how the money could be sent without being tracked back to him. The FBI discovered that Spitzer was paying prostitutes with this money.
Spitzer realized he had few friends and many enemies in the legislature. A more popular Governor might have found a way to survive this scandal (as his successor did). Impeachment appeared likely for Spitzer. Spitzer resigned as Governor. Spitzer was never charged with a crime.
There are many theories that someone who disliked Spitzer tipped off the FBI. No theory has yet been proven as true.
David Patterson became Governor. Patterson immediately admitted to adultery and paying for a hotel room with his mistress twice using political funds, which is illegal. Paterson paid his campaign personally to cover these costs.
Bruno was later charged with illegally accepting $3.2 million from businesses. He was convicted.
I did like the straight forward layout of his rise to Attorney Justice and he did cover the major cases Mr. Spitzer prosecuted, although I do wish he had given more information on the final outcome of some (Richard Grasso, for example). "Troopergate" was handled well, but I do wish he had fleshed out more the character of Joseph Bruno, recently in the news for being convicted in Federal Court for theft of honest services. But, of course, I am sure Mr. Elkind couldn't get even close to Mr. Bruno to get any inside information.
For those who like detail, Mr. Elkind does a very good job of tracing the rise of the Emperors Club VIP but I do wish he had given more background on the individuals involved. He explains well how the investigation proceeded and admits what he does not know - how this first came to the attention of the US District Attorney. I did come away convinced that if the Feds want to trace you via monetary transactions (i.e., something other than cash), they will probably get you in the end.
This is a quick read, and an insight to the corruption of politics that exists in New York. Mr. Spitzer is one of only many who have crossed the line, and as I write, several more are either under indictment or being investigated. This book would be of interest more to those like to read about politics, particularly the seamy side.
"Rough Justice" is the interesting story of the political career of the very complex and unique Eliot Spitzer. Award-winning investigative reporter and coauthor of the national best seller "The Smartest Guys in the Room", Peter Elkind, provides a comprehensive account of the rise and fall of one of the most promising political careers in America. This is a very solid and even-handed book that takes the reader inside the houses of government, the workings of Wall Street and the political dynamics of our leaders. This 323-page book is composed of the following fifteen chapters: Ironbutt, 2. Becoming a Pol, 3. Eliot Time, 4. Wild Kingdom, 5. Irwin, 6. "Daddy, Please Don't Hit Me Anymore", 7. The Big Ugly, 8. The Haunted House, 9. Sharks vs. Octopus, 10. "Bangbang", 11. "Animals", 12. Crossing the Rubicon, 14. Client 9, and 15. "Who Killed Eliot Spitzer?.
1. Well-researched, engaging prose that makes for an enjoyable read.
2. An even-handed account and respectful treatment of the subject.
3. The fascinating rise and fall of a complex man, Eliot Spitzer.
4. The author does a wonderful job of providing keen insights into the life of Eliot Spitzer. From his upbringing to now.
5. An interesting look at Spitzer's family life, his interactions with his wife Silda.
6. No doubt in my mind that Spitzer was born to be an AG (Attorney General). This is one of the most fascinating aspects of this book. His exploits as an AG is remarkable and admirable. Very few people have the guts and intellect to go after Wall Street with the conviction of Eliot Spitzer. He became the most feared regulator. Kudos!
7. Great quotes. One of my favorite Spitzer gems, "The worst thing about political jokes is that some of them get elected."
8. An inside look at the dynamics within the Spitzer team.
9. The inner workings of Wall Street. Regulations and the AG. Spitzer's overall strategy. Great stuff!
10. Spitzer's targets...the war between titans. Spitzer a bully?? "Bullies pick on little people" Spitzer scoffed.
11. Spitzer's rise to becoming governor of New York. Once again, the dynamics of his team.
12. The growing pains of being a governor and the differences between being a governor and an AG.
13. A clash between titans, Spitzer versus Bruno.
14. The scandals, the details of "Troopergate".
15. The scandal that brought Spitzer to his knees. The details.
16. The inner workings of a an escort service.
17. A good summary of prominent politicians who also had their sex scandal.
18. A look at Patterson, the replacement governor.
19. Links worked great.
1. The biggest problem that any book of this ilk faces is that a lot of the most interesting/controversial details are made public before the book is even available for the public.
2. The author failed to give a more detailed account of what drove Spitzer to risk it all. Of course, we all suspect the obvious but with a man of Spitzer's intellect and straight-arrowed facade I was hoping for a bit more.
3. No notes.
4. In spite of my personal interest for this story, the book may have a limited audience outside of New York.
In summary, I enjoyed reading this book. Eliot Spitzer is a fascinating man who I hope will one day return as a politician. It's not every day you encounter a Democrat with the guts of a pitbull. Peter Elkind does a wonderful job of capturing the essence of Eliot Spitzer. My only minor gripe is the lack of detail or even an educated theory of why Spitzer faltered. The other shortfall of course is that the book offers very few new details of the most controversial aspects of the fall. The media and the public devoured the most seedy details of the story so by the book came out well it was like old news. Be that as it may, the political dynamics at the center of Eliot Spitzer is what makes this book compelling. Every reader will be able to speculate what could have been based on the thorough details provided. Personally, I thought Spitzer was working his way through the growing pains of being a governor and was ultimately going to get "it". It's too bad that he allowed a personal shortcoming become his downfall, hopefully, he can bounce back, he is too valuable a leader to be sidelined for too long. Shortcomings aside this is a fascinating political account of an interesting and important political leader, a leader once dubbed, "America's Best Public Servant."
Further suggestions: "Decision Points" by former President George W. Bush, "The Politician: An Insider's Account of John Edwards's Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal That Brought Him Down" by Andrew Young, "The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust" by Diana B. Henriques, "King of Capital: The Remarkable Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone" by David Carey, "The Post-American World: Release 2.0" by Fareed Zakaria, "That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back" by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, "The Monster: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America--and Spawned a Global Crisis" by Michael W. Hudson, and "Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class" by Jacob S. Hacker & Paul Pierson.