N.Y. Governor Faces Ethics Investigation New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who got elected with a promise to clean up New York government, is under investigation by a State Ethics Panel after members of his adminstration collected dirt on a political rival, planning to leak it to a newspaper.
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N.Y. Governor Faces Ethics Investigation

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N.Y. Governor Faces Ethics Investigation

N.Y. Governor Faces Ethics Investigation

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

It has been a tough week for New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. He is under investigation by a state ethics panel after members of his administration collected dirt on a political rival, planning to leak it to a newspaper.

For a man like Spitzer, who got elected promising to clean up New York government, it turned into something of an epic political drama.

And here to relate that epic for us is NPR's Robert Smith.

ROBERT SMITH: If the scandal were a children's book, you would call it the "Legend of Sir Eliot and the Flying Dragon."

Along time ago, at the turn of the century to be exact, a kingdom called Wall Street was being plagued by dragons. The creatures would feast on gold and stock options. But into the concrete Canyon Road, a white knight, the attorney general of New York, Eliot Spitzer.

Governor ELIOT SPITZER (Democrat, New York City): We are on the cusp of a crisis of accountability on Wall Street.

SMITH: Sir Eliot knew his foes well. He went to prep school and Harvard with many of them. One, two, one, two, and through and through, the dragon slayer took on the investment banks and the insurance industry. You see, Sir Eliot had a magic sword. Here's how it worked. He would find incriminating details about a company, facts that were sometimes leaked to the press, and the embarrassed dragon would slink away in shame and ask to settle out of court. The people cheer - will you be king of New York state? And on his inauguration day, he issued a warning to all the other dragons.

Gov. SPITZER: Day one of our time for a change has arrived.

SMITH: In the audience was the man that Spitzer, a Democrat, might have considered the biggest dragon of all.

Joe Bruno, the highest ranking Republican in the state, leader of the New York State Senate and a man already under investigation by the FBI for his business deals. To be far, Bruno would tell the story a little differently. He wouldn't refer to himself as a dragon, perhaps just an endangered species - a rural Republican in an increasingly urban and Democratic state. In his story, the noble dragon slayer was really a spoiled brat.

State Senator JOSEPH BRUNO (Republican, New York): This is a fellow who grew up having anything that he pleased, been able to say anything that he wants to say. That's how he grew up. So it's kind of hard for him sometimes to relate to the average person.

SMITH: At first, they fought on the state budget, but then the battle took to the air. You see, Bruno was a flying dragon. He likes to take state helicopters to meetings around New York. Spitzer's staff used the old magic sword trick. They asked the state police to start collecting records on Bruno's travel to catch him in an abuse of state resources. But unlike the cowardly dragons of Wall Street, Bruno did not slink back into his cave.

State Sen. BRUNO: I believe, for the first time in the history of this state, an executive at governor's office has seen fit to spy and track and attempt to really destroy a political rival.

SMITH: Suddenly, the white knight was covered in dirt. An attorney general's report this week only made the situation muddier. No laws were broken, either by the flying Bruno or the dragon slayer, but the court says that Spitzer's staff violated state policies. And a man used to extracting apologies gave one himself.

Gov. SPITZER: I am accountable for what goes on in the executive branch and I accept responsibility for the actions of my office.

SMITH: Spitzer suspended one aide and reassigned another. Now, the State Ethics Commission is taking up the matter and Bruno is still spitting fire, roaring, what do the governor know and when did he know it.

Sorry, kids, this story ends with a cliffhanger. Will the white knight pull himself from the muck? Can the flying dragon be stopped? Tune in next time.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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