Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: email@example.com
Now that he's resigned, and thoughts turn to succession and the possibility of criminal charges, it's probably good to reflect for just a second about why Spitzer mattered. Plenty of governors have endured sex scandals. They haven't all resigned.
But Spitzer's story was different. His own "Mr. Clean" persona created problems for him. Laws were broken in his case and it wasn't just a straight-up affair between consenting politician-and-staff. (Kwame Kilpatrick, enjoy the quiet -- but we haven't forgotten you.)
Spitzer himself mattered more than Glendening or Wise or Patton. These other governors who have brought sex scandals upon themselves were from smaller states. They didn't appear to be on the rise as future forces in national politics. And they hadn't done as much of import as Spitzer has done.
His failings are obvious -- not just now, but throughout his year or so as governor. He struggled all the way. But as attorney general, he called out some clearly bad if not so clearly criminal behavior on Wall Street, among many other areas.
He stepped into a void left by federal regulators not simply because of ambition, although there was that, but because there was a need.
Wall Street is laughing -- no, cheering -- now. But who in the midst of the mortgage meltdown and all the financial speculation that fueled it could doubt that the financial industry -- which always argues it's professional and ethical and doesn't need regulation -- deserves constant scrutiny?
Spitzer's methods weren't always pretty and there's fairness in the argument that he abused prosecutorial privileges. But his tactics worked. The people he hurt deserved it, by the testimony of their own emails. The people he helped gave him the biggest winning margin of any governor in New York State history.
He just wasn't the right man for the next job up the ladder.
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