The Rehabilitation of Eliot Spitzer

All of a sudden, he seems to be everywhere.  I first saw Eliot Spitzer weighing in as a talking head on the MSNBC “Morning Meeting” with Dylan Ratigan. After repeated appearances there, “The Chris Matthews Show” – one of the station’s top-rated programs – booked him.  Perhaps because of his former moniker as “The Sheriff of Wall Street,” he has been sought out to discuss the failings of the big boys in the stock market and banking sectors.  As Matthews repeatedly called him “Governor,” I wondered what the exact protocol was for retaining your title even after you have resigned in disgrace.

For those who may have forgotten, I offer a short primer.  Eliot Spitzer served as the New York State Attorney General before taking up residence in the Governor’s mansion on January 1st, 2007.  He stepped down on March 17th, 2008.  A week earlier, a New York Times article related how Spitzer had been the patron of a prostitution ring. The information came to light during a Federal wiretap that was put into place when Spitzer’s bank reported money transfers that appeared suspicious. Questions were raised about the possibility of bribery funds.  It was learned that Spitzer had spent $80,000 for the services of prostitutes over a period of time that included both his tenure as Attorney General, and as Governor.

In November 2008, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia announced that no federal charges would be filed against Spitzer. Garcia concluded that after a thorough investigation, no evidence had been found that Spitzer – or his office – had misused public or campaign funds for prostitution. Garcia said, “We have concluded that the public interest would not be further advanced by filing criminal charges in this matter.” Not every one saw it that way.  Sunny Hostin, a legal analyst for CNN and former assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., wrote an opinion piece asking, “Why did feds give Spitzer a pass?”

Now, a year later, Spitzer has been securing public speaking engagements in a range of venues.  At Harvard University (Spitzer is a graduate of Harvard Law School) on November 12th, Spitzer participated in a panel about “policing Wall Street.”  It was part of the school’s public series exploring “ethical issues in public life.”  In an article by Katie Zezima, “Spitzer Talks About, Well. Ethics,” the reporter quoted Washington lawyer Lily Mazahery, also on the panel, as saying “she was outraged when she heard Mr. Spitzer was speaking.”

In my hometown of New York City, Spitzer popped up as the moderator of a debate about American Foreign Policy and Israel with Alan Dershowitz and Jeremy Ben-Ami (November 21st).  Attending the event, I questioned why Spitzer had been chosen for this role.  When Spitzer mentioned that Dershowitz had been his professor at Harvard Law School, I contemplated if that were the connection. A simple Google search yielded an enlightening clip of Dershowitz defending Spitzer.  In the interview, Dershowitz suggested that Spitzer’s involvement with prostitutes “was a private matter.” He chided the American public stating, “Let’s not exaggerate this…Let’s not make more of this than it is.”

As a writer who focuses on women’s issues, I opined in March 2008 that the Spitzer imbroglio was an opportunity to look at prostitution, human trafficking, and related matters with a seriousness of purpose.  At the time, those who felt the most severely betrayed by the Governor’s actions were the activists who had stood with Spitzer when he signed the Legislation to Prevent Human Trafficking into law in June 2007.

That’s the visceral image that resonates for me when I see Spitzer reclaiming a public role.  Perhaps in addition to his expertise on corruption in the Wall Street sector, Spitzer has something even more valuable to offer the public.  He could be a leader in a conversation about prostitution, human trafficking, and what drives the demand for these services.

That’s a story I would look forward to covering.

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