Few Tears Shed for Spitzer’s Departure

Posted March 12, 2008 at 6:33pm

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer might have made a splash on Wall Street with his take-no-prisoners style as state attorney general, but that won’t be his swan song in Washington, D.C.

Instead, lobbyists say Spitzer will be remembered as someone whose attitude didn’t translate into great politicking at the federal or state level.

The 48-year-old Spitzer, who is being replaced by Lt. Gov. David Paterson, resigned Wednesday after being linked to a prostitution ring.

“The overriding opinion of him within the delegation: arrogant and super smart, but nobody had warm feelings towards him,” said one senior aide to a New York delegation member.

Spitzer’s approach to Washington was similar to that of former New York GOP Gov. George Pataki, who also kept the Hill at arms-length.

Instead of trying to bolster relationships with the New York delegation, as former Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo did by building a large Washington office, Spitzer relied largely on one person to handle most of New York state’s Hill interaction: his office director, Derek Douglas.

Douglas, who most recently worked at the Center for American Progress, followed Spitzer’s model of hiring people with Ivy League roots instead of someone with deep New York state delegation ties, lobbyists say.

Douglas could not be reached for comment.

“The Pataki years sort of dismissed state and federal partnerships,” said Todd Howe, head of the Albany-based law firm Whiteman Osterman & Hanna’s Washington office. “Eliot only had a year and a half to get up and running. [Paterson] is the direction they need to go.”

Still, lobbyists say Spitzer had started to make some inroads into Washington.

A little more than a year into his tenure, he was starting to try to repair ties in Albany and Washington, where he attended the February meeting of the Democratic Governors Association, playing an active role in its meetings, said one Democratic lobbyist involved in the meeting.

His ardent support of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D) presidential bid also may have led Spitzer to pay more attention to D.C. And it certainly played into a change of behavior for a few House Members from the New York delegation who believed that they might have a chance to replace Clinton as New York’s junior Senator if she won the White House, said the senior Congressional aide, mentioning Democratic Reps. Nita Lowey, Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler.

“In the last year or so, if Hillary had won, Spitzer would have appointed her successor, so there were a lot of Members sucking up to him,” the senior aide said.

Lobbyists for the financial services industry, which Spitzer had pummeled with investigations into securities fraud and mutual funds when he was New York attorney general, unsurprisingly celebrated Spitzer’s exit.

“It’s been absolute glee,” said one Wall Street lobbyist of Spitzer’s resignation. “I think people in the financial services world had less dealings with him as governor than as AG, but he certainly had enough bad dealings [that] people are delighting in the downfall.”

Paterson’s ascension as governor, on the other hand, is being viewed with optimism on Capitol Hill.

The New York native is the scion of Basil Paterson, a former state Senator and one of the powerful Harlem Gang of Four Democratic coalition that also included David Dinkins, the city’s first black mayor, Percy Sutton, the former Manhattan borough president, and House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel.

“As unsettling as this change will be, it’s very positive for New York because Gov. Paterson has a strong personal, professional and well-respected relationship with Chairman Rangel and the members of the New York delegation,” said Jack Kelly of the McPherson Group, who worked for Rangel in the 1970s. “He’s a person they have known and respected for many years.”

Paterson’s political history also means that he has already formed relationships with many Members of Congress.

House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday that when it appeared likely Spitzer would step down, the state was “blessed” to have Paterson waiting in the wings.

“David’s one of my best friends. He’s a man of steel,” she said. She hoped Paterson could tone down the partisan fighting in Albany so the state can move forward. “He’s well-liked by both sides of the aisle, and that’s what we need,” she said.

Paterson, who is legally blind, is known for his calm demeanor and ability to negotiate with people of both parties, which lobbyists say should go a long way in repairing ties with the New York delegation.

“He himself comports himself in a very nonconfrontational way, and so that will be, I think, a marked improvement,” said former New York Sen. Al D’Amato (R).

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.