First, former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who was forced to resign his seat in Congress in 2011 after he was revealed to have publicly lied about having repeatedly sent explicit, lewd images of himself to women online, announced he was a candidate to be the next mayor of New York City.
Then, Eliot Spitzer, who was forced in 2008 to resign as governor of New York or face possible criminal prosecution in a prostitution scandal, declared himself to be a candidate for the job of New York City comptroller.
Both men are Democrats who left office in disgrace. Even the political and personal enemies of both men (who would fill a small field house) conceded Weiner and Spitzer were smart, energetic, cocky, relentlessly ambitious and, even as young men, able to hear — at distances of up to a half-mile — film being put into a TV camera. Together, they could make the 2013 New York City campaign season into one long sitcom.
But please understand that Weiner and Spitzer were totally different public officials. Weiner was a legislator, at 27 the youngest person in history to win a New York City Council seat, followed by election, at 34, to the House of Representatives. Spitzer, having been the lead investigator in the office of the New York district attorney in the case that drove the Gambino crime family out of the trucking and garment industries, was twice elected state attorney general before winning the governorship in 2006.
At the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, the future congressman ran for student body president on the slogan, “Vote for Weiner, He’ll Be Frank.” Once in office, Weiner had an insatiable appetite for media attention. He spent more time on cable news shows than he did with his House colleagues, virtually none of whom came to his defense.
Spitzer, who as a sophomore was elected president of the Princeton student body, was bad at personal relations. He always had more admirers than friends and inspired little affection.
But, unlike Weiner and most elected Republicans — and, yes, Democrats — Spitzer took on the most powerful, well-connected and deep-pocketed individuals and businesses in New York. After he and the superb staff he assembled, with no consideration given to political ties, went through 95,000 pages of Merrill Lynch emails, they were able to document the dishonest recommendations that the brokerage’s analysts were foisting on trusting customers just so the firm could lock in the lucrative investment banking of the recommended company. Exposed, Merrill Lynch paid a $100 million fine.
Attorney General Spitzer blew the whistle on the sleazy practice of mutual funds (which held the investments of some 95 million Americans) allowing big, powerful clients to buy a company’s stock at a lower price after the official closing of the market at 4 p.m. So when a company, after that 4 p.m. closing, issued a favorable earnings report, the favored “insiders” — but not the 95 million other Americans — were guaranteed a windfall profit when the market opened the next morning. Spitzer won 11 guilty pleas and $4 billions in settlements from the late-trading illegal actors.
The insurance giant Marsh & McLennan was made to pay $850 million in fines and reform its business practices, even though the company’s new chief executive was Michael Cherkasky, the man who had been Spitzer’s boss in the district attorney’s office and a contributor to his campaigns.
Spitzer, by his reckless misbehavior, wounded his wife and family. He disgraced his office. But, more than anyone else in public office, he had the guts to take on Wall Street and to hold them accountable. No wonder they fear him still.
— Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.