Spitzer's Legacy: Albany Enemies and a Budget Crisis

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Eliot Spitzer

Republicans in New York are calling for Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer to resign. Mario Tama/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mario Tama/Getty Images

Just before Eliot Spitzer's resignation, Albany Times Union Rick Karlin explains why some will celebrate the downfall of a governor that made more enemies than friends during his time in office — and what's in store for New York's newest governor.

ALISON STEWART, host:

Yes, it's a story that has legs, legs that belong to a five-foot-five, 105-pound, pretty brunette named Kristen who offered her services to Client Nine, otherwise known as the governor of New York. The story, still on the front page of the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and, of course, the paper that broke the story, the New York Times. Now after the initial shock that the crusading former attorney general was allegedly a repeat customer of a prostitution operation, now comes the political fallout.

New York's top Republican is threatening to push for impeachment proceedings if the Democratic governor doesn't step down within the next 24 to 48 hours. Now Spitzer spent most of his day holed up in his Fifth Avenue apartment. Rick Karlin, the capitol reporter for the Albany Times Union spent a big part of his day covering this very big story. Hey, Rick.

Mr. RICK KARLIN (Capitol Reporter, Albany Times Union): How you doing?

STEWART: I'm doing OK. I want to ask you a broader picture question. You know, in other political scandals, when other politicians have done something like this, let's say, the Jim McGreevy situation or Rowland in Connecticut, there was always somebody saying, yeah, you know, I knew about that. I kind of knew this was going on. But you reported the state capital was at a standstill because of shock.

Mr. KARLIN: This really came out of the blue. That this was not something that anyone really had an inkling about, really until Friday, when a couple reporters, including someone at our paper in the Times, got wind that something might have been going on with an investigation. We had known that Eliot Spitzer had flown down to Washington, D.C., on the dates that were in question.

But other than that, it was a real shock. He has this image of Mister Clean. He also has an image of a family man. He's frequently seen with his wife and his three teenage daughters. He's the kind of guy who, in a way - he's sort of kind of a geeky guy just focused on policy and cleaning up government. So this was something that came as a real surprise.

STEWART: So no rumblings at all.

Mr. KARLIN: Say what?

STEWART: No rumblings, really.

Mr. KARLIN: No, no. Not until that Friday, no. It just was a total surprise, which makes it all the more paralyzing, I guess, for the lawmakers here, don't know how to react to it either. I mean, the Democrats are predictably hesitant to really say anything against him. The Republicans have jumped on it. And people are just wondering at this point, when is he going to resign? That's what the current chapter is right now.

STEWART: Let's talk about the political position that Spitzer is in. Does he have enough goodwill to tough it out and not resign?

Mr. KARLIN: That's the problem. I don't think that he does. When he came into office, he came in as the white knight. He was going to clean up Albany, and that meant both Republicans and Democrats. And he, in the past year, has waged some pitched battles with Democrats as well as Republicans. Last year, he had a big fight with the Democrats over who the state comptroller would be. The previous state comptroller, Alan Hevesi, he had to resign amid a scandal, OK?

He was abusing state workers, having them chauffeur his wife around. Spitzer wanted to appoint his own person as comptroller. However, the law states that the assembly, the Democratic Assembly, gets to choose the comptroller. They had a big battle over that. He went and attacked some Democrats in their home districts after that happened. So he doesn't have this reservoir of support even among the Democrats.

STEWART: Yeah, no political capital to spend at this point.

Mr. KARLIN: No. That's correct. That's his big problem.

STEWART: I'm sorry I keep interrupting you. The only New York governor to step down amid scandal - that was all the way back in 1913.

Mr. KARLIN: Yes.

STEWART: And CNN is reporting that aides of Lieutenant Governor David Patterson and Spitzer are holding these transition meetings.

Mr. KARLIN: I'm not sure how close those meetings are. There's reports that the aides are talking, but apparently the governor has not spoken to the lieutenant governor in a while. But I'm sure that the aides here in the capital are talking. As a matter of fact, I know they are because they know what's coming. And there is, to some extent, a permanent government here in Albany. There are some aides who are going to stay and some are going to leave.

But the ones who know they're going to stay know that things have to keep running, and they've been talking, really, since Monday. Some of the people who are Spitzer's true inner circle, the three or four or five people that he brought in from the attorney general's office, OK, from his days as attorney general, will likely be gone on the day that he leaves as well.

STEWART: Let me ask you about Patterson. You said something interesting, that Spitzer and Patterson maybe necessarily haven't talked recently?

Mr. KARLIN: Yeah.

STEWART: They're not close, even though he's lieutenant governor?

Mr. KARLIN: They've never been particularly close. They don't have a real history together. When Spitzer was looking for a running mate, people were kind of surprised that he said, OK, David Patterson's a good choice. In other words, they don't have a long alliance going back previous to the election. They haven't been foes or anything like that, but they don't have a long history together, no.

STEWART: That's really interesting. Well, Patterson could become the first African-American governor of New York, the first legally blind governor in the United States. What will he face in this new role if he steps in?

Mr. KARLIN: Well, he'll have to rebuild the staff, which I think he'll be able to do pretty quickly. He's been in the state senate for over two decades. And I think, one of the biggest problems he'll face will be the same thing that Spitzer would have faced, is that New York is veering towards a budget crisis. We'll be talking about a five billion dollar budget deficit. New York's economy is heavily dependent on Wall Street's fortunes.

And as you know, those are not doing so well these days. So, he has his work cut out for him. He's going to have to deal with an always contentious legislature that always wants to spend more money, and his first job will be what any governor of New York has had to deal with in the last decade, trying to pull back the reins on spending and bringing a lot of diverse elements together in order to create a state budget.

STEWART: One thing that's interesting about this Spitzer case, is, they weren't going after Eliot Spitzer. He got caught up in, sort of, this post-9/11 expanded financial surveillance rules aimed at terrorists and drug traffickers and all that kind of thing, which is sort of interesting that he got caught in this net. Is there any schadenfreude about Eliot Spitzer's fall? That he had been discussed as possibly a presidential candidate one day.

Mr. KARLIN: There is tremendous schadenfreude on Wall Street, because he was the, I think, the Wall Street Journal - their headline, front page story yesterday referred to him as "the scourge of Wall Street." There's a lot of people on Wall Street, traders who felt that sometimes he came down too hard on them, and if you look on some of the Wall Street - you know, some of these Wall Street traders have their own blogs. They're celebrating in the blogosphere, even, over what's happening to Spitzer. They see it as comeuppance for arrogance and overzealous prosecution. I'm not sure that that's true, but that's the way that they feel.

STEWART: What's your gut tell you? He's going to step down or stay put?

Mr. KARLIN: Oh, well, I - I can't imagine him staying put at this point. Just...

STEWART: How, right?

Mr. KARLIN: How would he do it? Everything would come to a standstill. I mean, it's already come to a standstill in terms of state government, and it's just hard to imagine him staying. The question is, when will he step down? And there's a lot of varying opinions. On Monday night, there was a lot of buzz going around that he was going to step down Monday night, late Monday night. Tuesday came and went...

STEWART: Well...

Mr. KARLIN: Now the consensus seems to be sometime today...

STEWART: It's 8:15 in the morning. We've got a whole day ahead of us, so Rick Karlin, good luck with this and your reporting, and check back with npr.org all through the day today to find out what happens. This is the B...

MARTIN: With Eliot Spitzer.

STEWART: P-P!

(Soundbite of laughter)

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