Let me finish tonight with this.
There might be more at stake in the race for Comptroller of New York City than just Eliot Spitzer’s future. This could be a final referendum on the sex scandal as we know it and a reboot on the level of intrusion into the private lives of public servants, even if Spitzer himself didn’t necessarily see it that way when I told him so here last Monday night.
“Is it the end of the sex scandal? No. Am I any way condoning what I did? Absolutely not. And, so, I think those issues move in tandem and have an interesting relationship. But, certainly, the former is a conversation we should have,” Spitzer said.
Fine. Let’s have it now.
I’d argue that we lose potentially good public servants when we evaluate their work capabilities through the prism of their private lives. That’s not a defense of Spitzer patronizing hookers but rather an opinion that his inability to honor his marital vows is not necessarily a reflection of his ability to comport himself on the job.
Bill Clinton proved compartmentalization.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was likewise a case for differentiating the public from the private. How outrageous that while married, he fathered a child with his maid, and yet, his governance of California was not marred by scandal. Mark Sanford’s public sin was going AWOL and misleading his staff about his whereabouts on the Appalachian Trail - the fact that he was with his South American mistress was his wife’s business.
The issue is bigger than Spitzer. Where competency is in short supply among elected officials, the public’s objective should be to expand the pool to include those who have something to offer but view the scrutiny that comes with running for office as too high a price to pay.
And it’s not just about sex. It’s largely about intrusion.
Colin Powell would have made a great American president. Too bad he never ran, and in all probability, his unwillingness was impacted by old reports about his wife’s health.
Maybe in 2012 Indiana governor Mitch Daniels would have run were there not such fascination with his divorce then re-marriage to his wife.
One wonders how many others - lacking Powell or Daniel’s celebrity but sharing their competency - have contemplated runs for public office only to conclude that the discomfort of scrutiny of their private lives and those in their family made it not worth the venture into the arena.
Spitzer told me:
“Five years later, I think I can ask forgiveness. I can say to the public, look at the entirety of my record as attorney general, as a prosecutor, as governor. I have erred. I have acknowledged it. I have sinned. I make no denial of that. I am asking for an opportunity to come back and serve, which is what I love to do.”
However they vote, here’s hoping residents of New York City cast their ballots based on his ability to serve, and not his desire to get serviced.