On the Sunday before the 2006 general election, Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo visited a Manhattan church attended by the state’s Democratic Party chairman, Herman “Denny” Farrell, and prayed. But only one really seemed to need it.
Mr. Spitzer was on his way to routing his Republican opponent for governor, propelling him into Albany with a promise to turn the place upside down. Mr. Cuomo, whose previous experience in elective politics consisted of a disastrous bid for governor in 2002, was just trying to keep his once-promising career alive by prevailing in a down-ticket race for attorney general.
That was then.
“Some people analyzed it that Andrew Cuomo was hanging on to his political life,” said state Conservative Party Leader Michael Long, recalling the days right after the general election. “And I think part of the problem is Eliot Spitzer and his people thought they won with such a big landslide that nobody could stop them from where they’re going. And I think that’s what caused them to get into the trouble they’re in right now.”
That trouble, the culmination of a largely miserable first half-year in office for Mr. Spitzer, is summed up in a 57-page report detailing how the governor’s aides conjured up a plan to use state troopers to gather and disseminate information about State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, a Republican and bitter rival.
The report—which was compiled by the office of Mr. Cuomo, who gratefully and humbly accepted Mr. Spitzer’s support during the 2006 campaign—exonerated Mr. Bruno of the accusations pushed by the Spitzer camp, which had sought an investigation into Mr. Bruno’s use of state aircraft to travel to political events. More damagingly, the report declared that Mr. Spitzer’s aides had improperly pressured state police into working up reports about Mr. Bruno’s movements that they then leaked to the press.
Mr. Spitzer quickly announced the suspension of one aide—longtime spokesman Darren Dopp—and the reassignment of another.
But the report—which came out on July 23 with no leaks in advance, and seemed to catch the governor’s office off guard—is only the latest setback for the governor, who coasted to election last November with 69 percent of the vote. His publicly and privately confrontational style—he famously warned one Republican legislator that he was a “fucking steamroller”—backfired, resulting in a string of draws and outright defeats in fights with the legislature over selection of a new state comptroller, health care reform and legislative redistricting.
A few weeks ago, Mr. Spitzer grew frustrated at Mr. Bruno, who was blocking a signature piece of campaign finance legislation. In a phone call with a state senator, Mr. Spitzer reportedly called Mr. Bruno “senile.” (Mr. Spitzer’s office denied it.)
Unsurprisingly, lawmakers in both parties have bridled at the abrasive style of the former prosecutor since the beginning of this year.
“He was a great attorney general,” said State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx, a Democrat who has supported Mr. Spitzer on a number of issues. “And now he is no longer A.G., but he’s using the same tactics.”
Despite the swagger and vows to do battle with the forces of reaction in Albany, the rapidity with which Mr. Spitzer has turned state officialdom against him is nearly unprecedented in recent memory.
“I don’t think anybody expected this type of situation to exist,” said Bill Cunningham, a consultant who served in the administrations of Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo. “What you really have, going back to December, is a series of events that nobody foresaw, even by Albany standards, that were totally off the radar. The whole comptroller’s situation, a process in place, the breakdown, the governor fighting with the legislature, the governor fighting with the State Senate majority leader, fighting in public like never before, and now this.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Cuomo—who once had a reputation as a shameless self-promoter—has won positive reviews for his style since arriving in office. He has largely kept himself out of the public eye, emerging only to announce the positive results of some investigation (most notably in the case of a student loan scandal that garnered national attention) or to declare a lawsuit against some designated public villain. Or, as was the case this week, to deliver a swift and devastating blow to Eliot Spitzer.
“The Sheriff of Wall Street,” declared Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant who worked for Mr. Cuomo’s main rival in the 2006 primary, “was attacked by the Sheriff of Albany.”