It almost sounds like a superhero name or punch-line to an action movie trailer: “Eliot Spitzer is… Client 9″. Unfortunately for Spitzer, the state of New York and fellow democrats, the title refers to Spitzer’s involvement with the Emperors Club VIP, an exclusive escort agency which he used for several years until a wire-tapped investigation outted him in 2008.
The media grabbed onto this discovery as they do with all political sex scandals, but even more so because of Spitzer’s political history as New York State Attorney General and then as Governor.
Spitzer was a New York City boy, born and raised in an affluent part of the Bronx. He got his degree from Princeton University in nearby New Jersey, and claimed to have gotten a perfect score on is LSAT’s before attending Harvard Law School in Boston. As soon as he graduated, he was back in NYC, working briefly at a private law firm before transferring to the District Attorney’s office.
Beginning in his early career and extending through his governorship, Spitzer focused on cleaning up New York, making it more “honest”. He ended the trucking and garment-industry control by the famous Gambino family in 1992, went after corporate white-collar crimes (many that began with the collapse of Enron in 2001), and hounded cases of environmental pollution, corruption and occupational safety.
Most ironically, he was responsible for closing two prostitution rings and prosecuting those who ran them.
From the New York Times: “In one such case in 2004, Mr. Spitzer spoke with revulsion and anger after announcing the arrest of 16 people for operating a high-end prostitution ring out of Staten Island. ‘This was a sophisticated and lucrative operation with a multitiered management structure,’ Mr. Spitzer said at the time. ‘It was, however, nothing more than a prostitution ring.’”
For a man who claimed he was going to clean up New York, who wore starched white shirts every day, is married to a fellow Harvard grad and founder of a non-profit organization that gets children to volunteer to help others, and is father to three daughters, well, the realization that he had been having affairs for ten years and spent campaign money on the Washington DC hotel rooms he saw escorts and prostitutes in didn’t go down easily for voters in 2008.
Spitzer almost immediately resigned.
The investigation into his spending that resulted in his arrest began somewhat innocently, and with his best interest in mind. In 2007, he tried to wire $10,000 to the company that fronted the Emperor’s Club, but to do so without the transfer being recorded he broke it up into smaller amounts (all wires to corporations above $10,000 are recorded). He then tried, unsuccessfully, to remove his name from those smaller wires. The IRS’s Criminal Investigation department then started looking into his case, afraid he might be the victim of identity theft or extortion. It wasn’t until the shell corporation hiding the Emperor’s Club was revealed that Spitzer’s involvement with it was linked. A later leak from a republican opponent alerted the FBI of his time with a prostitute in Florida that opened the investigation up wide.
Through wire-taps (a practice Spitzer had increased in popularity to the point that New York investigations with wire-taps are almost 30% of the country’s), Spitzer confirmed that he was spending money for the transportation, housing and sexual exchanges of 22 year-old escort Ashley Dupree. It was not the first time they were meeting, and eventually it came out that Spitzer spent more than $80,000 on prostitutes over a span of 10 years, from his office as Attorney General through to his resignation from the Governor’s office. He used the name of a friend and donor, George Fox, to book the appointments and hotel rooms. Fox was unaffiliated with and unaware of the situation.
The discovery of this private life obviously shook his family, though his wife stayed by his side and even later said she blamed herself for his sexual wanderings. He anchored a political talk show titled In the Arena on CNN for 7 months before being cancelled this July due to low ratings and a shift in the network’s time-slots, and once again Spitzer’s career seems undetermined.
Spitzer’s love for sex with escorts and the length of time he successfully had it is almost impressive. Politicians are held up to a moral standard that is rigorously enforced yet also have the power and prestige that make having affairs a greater reality. But we don’t often hear of cases where a politician spent years pursuing sex outside of his marriage. To do so must have taken a great deal of cunning, persistence and a hungry desire.
Yes, many politicians have been caught over the years. Some, like Jerry Springer, Bill Clinton and Barney Frank, managed to continue in their fields. Others didn’t. Anthony Weiner, the former representative from New York who was caught texting pictures of his crotch, resigned after a bit of hemming and hawing over whether or not the pictures were, indeed, of him (they were). Jim McGreevy, then governor of New Jersey, resigned and came clean in the same speech, revealing his homosexuality and affair with the man he had appointed as New Jersey homeland security advisor.
What do these examples help us conclude about Spitzer’s case? Not much — there’s really no handbook for how a politician can get away with an affair, either with an escort, a prostitute, or a personal connection, as there is no telling when he will be sold to the plebes by his colleagues.
Maybe someone should have told Eliot Spitzer that… ten years ago.