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Reactions to Spitzer News: Shock to Cheers

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Depending on where you sit, Governor Spitzer's apparent downfall is either distressing or a source of rich, if unpleasant, irony. For a look at the hopes he carried and the enemies the governor made, we're joined by New York Magazine contributing editor Steve Fishman. He wrote a profile of Eliot Spitzer for the magazine just this last summer. Good morning.

Mr. STEVE FISHMAN (Contributing Editor, New York Magazine): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: What was your reaction when you heard this news?

Mr. FISHMAN: Oh, I was shocked. I think everybody was shocked. I think that was one of the things that registered most vibrantly. People who knew Eliot didn't expect this, even people who knew him closely. With many other cases that we've had around the country, whatever it was that came to public, confirmed rumors that had been heard for a long time. That was not the case in this situation.

So I think that with almost no exceptions, people are shocked.

MONTAGNE: Because you read about him as he was or presented himself - a crusader, the man of high moral character that demanded sometimes angrily from others those same high standards.

Mr. FISHMAN: That's correct. He was a man who was swept into office. Seventy percent of the vote - seems a long time ago now - but he was the man who had a mandate for change, and that mandate was based on the belief that he was the person who could effectually change. He was somebody - not only in whose policies they believed, but they believed that his character, his penchant for rectitude, his penchant for making the right moral judgment was just the person that would need it.

MONTAGNE: And what has been the reaction on Wall Street, where there were many targets of the then Attorney General Spitzer?

Mr. FISHMAN: As attorney general - he was attorney general for two terms, eight years. He went after a number of high profile targets. The first one and the one that made the biggest impact that he went after a number of Wall Street investment firms who were hiding information from the public, among other things. And that earns him a number of those vociferous enemies. And it was those enemies and generally the people that they worked with who actually cheered on the floor of the stock exchange when they heard the news.

MONTAGNE: Now, there would never be a good time for this news. But at the moment, it is particularly complicated given that New York is looking at a four - nearly $4 and a half billion deficit and shortly needs to complete a budget for the coming year. The governor would obviously be right at the heart of that.

Mr. FISHMAN: That's correct. And that's going to complicate that exercise enormously. I think the other change worth bearing in mind is that New York, for too long, has been considered widely a dysfunctional government. Eliot Spitzer responded to change that. And despite a very rocky start, he seemed on a point of effectuating some change. The elections were coming up. The Republican held a one-seat majority which it looked like under the leadership of Governor Spitzer would change. It seemed fairly sure that Governor Spitzer would have Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate and for the first time, really be able to move forward with his program.

MONTAGNE: As Margot just noted, Governor Spitzer spoke in the past tense yesterday at his very, very brief news conference. Will he resign?

Mr. FISHMAN: I don't believe there's any other possibility but resignation. His status as politician is no longer tenable. It would be an enormous distraction both to him, to the party, to anything he wants to get done.

We've been through this kind of psycho drama in the country, neighboring states. Nobody wants a reason of exactly this kind of distracting, destructive drama. And I'm sure that Spitzer knows that. He has to be in his last days of figuring out how he's going to do it. There is some question as to whether he could be charged for some of the things he's accused of doing and whether that figures into his calculation about how and when he might step down.

MONTAGNE: And then, if that's the case, the lieutenant governor, David Paterson, that he would do something that's for the record books in New York.

Mr. FISHMAN: He would. He would be the first African-American governor of New York. He's an able person who's been in politics and whose family has been in politics a very long time. His views certainly align with the affiliates of Governor Spitzer. And in some ways, he would be a, perhaps, a more harmonizing character.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. FISHMAN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Steve Fishman of New York Magazine speaking to us from New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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