WHY SPITZER RANKLES POWERFUL NEW YORK
Voters should get past the armchair psychoanalysis and look at his record
Eliot Spitzer’s return to the electoral arena as a candidate for city controller has triggered a competition among New York’s political, media and Wall Street elites to see who can heap the most ridicule and contempt upon him.
There’s been a fair amount of religious-sounding moralizing by those who think adultery and/or hooker-hiring are deal-killers for anyone seeking or holding public office. Others employ a secular version of the same puritanical instinct, subjecting Spitzer to dime-store psychoanalysis and concluding he is too emotionally troubled to wield public power.
Here’s a reality check: A lot of the condemnation you hear is actually resentment and panic by elites who have been on the receiving end of Spitzer’s various crusades. Many of them have deep attachments to institutions that deserved every bit of the grief Spitzer caused them.
(Disclosure: My wife used to work for Spitzer, and he was a guest “Wise Guy” on the NY1 show that I host.)
I’ll get to Wall Street in a minute. Let’s start with Spitzer’s long-running battle against employers who cheat low-wage workers.
Back in 2004, a community organization called the Urban Justice Center brought to light a scandalous situation in Central Park, where a company called M&T Pretzel had vendors — mostly immigrants from Bangladesh — illegally working long shifts without overtime and in some cases without being paid minimum wage. Then-Attorney General Spitzer went after the company and secured $450,000 in back pay, plus an agreement to obey labor laws.
He did something similar in Southampton, L.I., where a contractor was forced to pay $75,000 in back wages to 18 immigrant day laborers.
Here in the city, he settled with Gristedes supermarket for $3.2 million after finding that hundreds of deliverymen, mostly African immigrants, were being paid well below the minimum wage.
The list goes on.
There is a type of New Yorker who doesn’t mind a bit if thousands of miserably exploited folk are quietly selling them pretzels in Central Park, cutting the grass at their Hamptons estate and delivering groceries in Manhattan. That type of New Yorker is probably not a Spitzer fan.
But there is another kind of New Yorker who was proud of every one of Spitzer’s wage crusades against companies like Duane Reade and Food Emporium. And when he went after Wall Street, they cheered even louder.
Spitzer forced Merrill Lynch to pay a $100 million fine — to New York and other states — for the practice of having supposedly neutral analysts tout and promote stock in companies so that another branch of Merrill could land the same company’s investment business.
It was part of a pattern: Spitzer went hard after places like Smith Barney, Morgan Stanley and AIG, exposing widespread patterns of financial firms giving favored treatment to insiders while duping the broader investing public, the ordinary people relying on mutual funds and pension payments for a comfortable retirement.
Spitzer also rang the alarm, early and often, against the financial house of cards being built on Wall Street, taking institutions to task for creating and selling all-but-worthless mortgage securities as if they were reliable investments.
The elites will never forgive Spitzer for shining a light on the insider deals. The fact he is a son of privilege — a graduate of Horace Mann, Princeton and Harvard Law and the wealthy scion of a real estate empire — makes their hatred more acute.