Eliot Spitzer’s Long, Winding and Slightly Bewildering Road to Redemption
By JAN HOFFMAN
HERE is Eliot Spitzer on MSNBC with the host Ed Schultz, railing against fallen Wall Street titans who regain power (“absolutely insane”). There he is on Fox’s “Good Day New York,” taking swipes at Andrew Cuomo (“he has to answer the hard questions”) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (“I don’t like politicians who vacillate”). He’s lunching regularly at power restaurants like Michael’s (telling the waiter, “Silda wants me to have the salad”), holding hands with his wife at charity galas, attending a private salon at Tina Brown’s. Writing his twice-monthly Slate column, “The Best Policy.” Teaching undergraduates at the City College of New York, lecturing at Harvard about ethics, parsing the meaning of love on BigThink.com.
It’s been scarcely two years since Mr. Spitzer, his ashen-faced wife at his side, seemed to have written his political obituary, with his taut-jawed, almost lipless grimace of resignation as governor of New York, following disclosures that he was a client in a prostitution ring. Now he is emphatically back, seemingly everywhere.
For public figures whose falls have been as spectacular as that of Mr. Spitzer’s, there are many time-tested paths to image rehab. Seclusion. Prison. Good works. The seminary.
None of those options, it seems, are for Eliot Spitzer.
“Most people faced with that kind of disgrace would disappear off the face of the earth for a longer period of time,” said Howard Rubenstein, the public relations impresario. “But there is a lot of curiosity about him. And he is a publicity steamroller” — a reference to Mr. Spitzer’s expletive-garnished self-description as a “steamroller.” “In time people will remember his strengths and his intelligence,” Mr. Rubenstein said, “and what he’s showing now: determination.”
During an interview this week in the Fifth Avenue offices of Spitzer Engineering, his father’s real estate business, Mr. Spitzer, 50, relaxed and ruddy from a family ski vacation in Utah, made it clear he was following a different path. “The only thing I can try to do is contribute in a small way and not in a way that is designed to get forgiveness,” he said. “That would be too transactional: ‘I’m doing X, now you will forgive me.’ I don’t think it can or should work that way.”
He made no apology for his pervasiveness as a pundit, first joking: “Public speaking? I speak to myself on the street!” Then he grew earnest. “You can view it as pure selfishness and hedonism,” he said. “But I care about this stuff. Obviously it’s more rewarding to participate when you can do something about it — which is why I loved and sorely miss the jobs I had.” He glanced over at Lisa Linden, a public relations consultant for Spitzer Engineering, whom he asked to be present.
After his resignation, Mr. Spitzer had a self-imposed exile that lasted about 8 1/2 months. On Nov. 16, 2008, 10 days after federal prosecutors declined to press charges, Mr. Spitzer had an opinion article on financial regulation published in The Washington Post. Two weeks later, at the behest of Cliff Sloan, Slate’s former publisher and a friend from Harvard Law School, he started his online column.
“I keep pressing the button on the Slate column,” Mr. Spitzer said, laughing, “so it looks like I’m getting a lot of hits.”
As the first anniversary of his resignation on March 12, 2008, approached, Mr. Spitzer expanded his audience: Fareed Zakaria on CNN, “Today,” the cover of Newsweek.
“Eliot is like the smartest kid in the room with his hand up, but the teacher’s not calling on him,” said his former political advertising aide, Jimmy Siegel. “He believes he has the answers to things, economically, and he would love to be in a position to do something about it.”
By last fall, he was teaching at City College. He said his students told him they didn’t watch mainstream news media, so he agreed to appear on “Real Time With Bill Maher” on HBO.
“I always thought he’d be a good guest as the Sheriff of Wall Street because of the financial meltdown,” said Mr. Maher, referring to Mr. Spitzer’s nickname. “I’d seen him on shows with the de rigueur ‘Let’s beat up on this guy before we get to what matters.’ I wanted to be the first one to have him on a program and not bring up the scandal.”
Indeed Mr. Maher did not; by the time Mr. Spitzer was a guest again in February, his onscreen identifier read, “Eliot Spitzer, columnist, Slate.com.”
Mr. Spitzer said he doesn’t court appearances. “This was a process over time of my accepting invitations from people that seemed would be fun.”
While some muscular forays — like his exchanges with Mr. Zakaria about the absence of Wall Street transparency — may remind viewers of Mr. Spitzer’s finer moments in government, others recall his tendency to be tone deaf...http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/08/fashion/08Spitzer.html?hp