Elliot Spitzer 6 Months Later

28 09 2008

Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer was reading his newspaper on a recent Thursday morning when he was jolted by a comment made by his successor, David A. Paterson.

In the 22nd paragraph of a New York Times article on Aug. 21, Mr. Paterson said that aides to Mr. Spitzer had lacked experience in Albany, and added that the Spitzer administration’s management approach sometimes “just didn’t work.”

Mr. Spitzer grew upset, according to a senior aide to Mr. Paterson and another official. He picked up the phone, reached a Paterson aide, demanded a public apology from the governor and “issued threats, veiled and unveiled” against Mr. Paterson, said the aide, who insisted on anonymity because he did not want to anger either man.

No public apology was offered; Mr. Spitzer and Mr. Paterson have not spoken since June.

Six months have passed since Mr. Spitzer’s breathtakingly quick exodus from office after being implicated as a patron of a prostitution ring. One day, Eliot Laurence Spitzer was a national figure some saw destined for the White House; the next he was a target of ridicule.

Now, in interviews with friends and former aides, and through e-mail messages obtained through a Freedom of Information request by The New York Times, a picture emerges of Mr. Spitzer trying to focus on the future and his family, with the threat of criminal charges still hanging over him. He is working at his father’s real estate firm, and has discussed with friends whether to undertake charity, environmental or free legal work to try to rehabilitate his image.

But despite his efforts to move forward, Mr. Spitzer can be moved by flashes of anger, especially when it comes to what he views as his achievements and legacy, and he has faced an adjustment as he confronts life without the power he once wielded.

In June, he traveled with his three daughters and his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, to Southeast Asia, where the family could enjoy time together far from New York and the prying media. But while the family was in Laos, news broke that the state’s highest court had thrown out most of the charges in the civil case that Mr. Spitzer, as state attorney general, had brought against Richard A. Grasso, the former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, over Mr. Grasso’s $139.5 million compensation package.

Mr. Spitzer called a reporter back in New York — though it was the middle of the night there, given the time difference — to criticize the ruling and suggest people to call who would back up his view.

On Sept. 18, approached by a reporter outside his father’s Fifth Avenue office, he lamented the federal rescue of American International Group, the giant insurer, and defended the aggressive steps he had taken to force the ouster of its chairman, Maurice R. Greenberg, in 2005 amid an accounting scandal.

He said his political demise shouldn’t diminish his achievements. “I committed my sins and I’ve paid for them,” he said. Then he added, referring to A.I.G.: “But I was right.”

Asked how he was doing, he shrugged and responded, with resignation and a degree of joylessness: “Making money is making money,” before heading inside the building. He declined to speak further.

Mr. Spitzer’s daily routine, once scrutinized by a roving pack of reporters, aides and cameras, has taken on a more quotidian feel. He sometimes jogs in Central Park before work, buys his own cup of coffee, drops his daughters at the school bus and hails his own cab to the Fifth Avenue office building that houses his family’s real estate business.

The glare of the cameras has been replaced with fleeting moments of recognition in an Upper East Side neighborhood filled with high-profile people. Sometimes people ask for his autograph or offer him supportive words or smiles. Construction workers snicker at him and cabdrivers take pictures of him on their cellphones.

It wasn’t like this when the news first broke in March. Then there were gestures of comfort from the powerful inhabitants of Mr. Spitzer’s world. Former Vice President Al Gore reached out to him, as did Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, according to e-mail records. (After he resigned from office, Mr. Spitzer’s e-mail communications with public officials were no longer considered privileged, and thus were subject to public records requests.)

Ethel Kennedy, widow of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, relayed to the governor a quotation to lift his spirits.

“Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall,” Mrs. Kennedy wrote, adding: “See you back on top.”

Mr. Spitzer was so moved by the words that when he resigned a few days later, he used them in his short resignation speech.

The same week, Mr. Spitzer sent an e-mail message to a top aide describing the personal turmoil he had brought to his family. “We are surviving,” he wrote. “Silda has tough moments. My job now is to take care of her. I have done more than my share of damage.”


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