RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The attorney general who struck fear into the heart of Wall Street is now taking a stab at New York State government. Eliot Spitzer has been sworn in as governor, promising to overhaul campaign finance laws, cut property taxes, and cleanup this state's ethical lapses.
NPR's Robert Smith reports.
ROBERT SMITH: When Eliot Spitzer walked into the New York State Capitol building to give his first major policy address, yesterday, he made it clear, that the man known as the Sheriff of Wall Street was still wearing a white hat.
Governor ELIOT SPITZER: You can't change the world by whispering. New Yorkers didn't whisper for change on Election Day, they shouted for it.
SMITH: He didn't need to remind the assembled state legislators that he was elected with 69 percent of the vote. But Spitzer did call New York State government burdensome and unwieldy, an impediment to change. He blasted the state's commissions as patronage dumping grounds; and the empty pit at Ground Zero in Manhattan, a monument to government gridlock.
Gov. SPITZER: New York is not in its current position because of a lack of ideas, New York is in this position because of a lack of leadership.
SMITH: Fighting words are nothing new in a freshly elected politician, but Spitzer enters the office with the reputation of a man who can actually throw a punch. First as a prosecutor, then as the state's attorney general, he took on the ethical lapses of the biggest firms on Wall Street and he usually won. He revealed that stock analysts were skewing their research for big clients, that mutual funds were allowing favorite firms to trade after hours, that the insurance industry was rigging its bids.
Conveniently for Spitzer, he hasn't even had to change his rhetoric when taking on New York State government. In the last month, the state's comptroller, Alan Hevesi, was forced to resign for using a state employee to chauffer his wife. And the leader of the state Senate, Joseph Bruno, revealed that his business dealings were under investigation by the FBI.
Before his inauguration, Spitzer made it clear that things in the state capitol would have to change.
Gov. SPITZER: There is certainly a sense, right now, that there is an aura of unseemliness about too much of what goes on in Albany.
SMITH: The big question is whether Spitzer's prosecutorial style will work in the halls of state government?
Ms. BROOKE MASTERS (Author, "Spoiling for a Fight"): He is blunt to the point of rude.
SMITH: Brooke Masters is the author of the Spitzer biography "Spoiling for a Fight."
Ms. MASTERS: But is almost always to very powerful people who no one talks that way to. He doesn't yell at the waiter. He doesn't yell at his secretaries. He yells at the former chairman of Goldman Sachs. He's not a bully, in that he takes on people his own size, at least in these personal confrontations.
SMITH: Masters, who also writes for the Financial Times, says that Spitzer managed to get things done quickly by going straight to the media, and often publicly shaming CEOs - a move that won't be quite as effective in Albany.
Ms. MASTERS: He's going to have to find new ways of relating to people, and find new ways of using pressure points. You know, that he won't have the typical - I will indict you, I have a fraud case against you - method. He's going to have to find a way to say: you have to do this.
SMITH: Already Spitzer is trying to leverage his election mandate. He promised to introduce the strongest campaign finance laws in the nation and ban gifts to elected officials. But such measures will have to have the support of the same legislators that Spitzer has spent his first few days chiding. During his inauguration address, Spitzer took what some thought was a cheap shot at his new colleagues.
Gov. SPITZER: Like Rip Van Winkle, the legendary character created by the New York author Washington Irving, New York has slept through much of the past decade while the rest of the world has passed us by.
(Soundbite of cheering)
SMITH: So far, no Democratic or Republican lawmakers have complained about the rude wakeup call, but it remains to be seen if they actually get up or just hit the snooze bar,
Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.