Even by Albany’s low standards, the past eight months have offered an unappetizing insight into the ways and means of state government. Personal feuds, criminal investigations and the usual ethical scandals have overshadowed any good that might have come from Governor Eliot Spitzer’s first year in office.
One statewide official, however, has managed to simply do his job, and by doing so has separated himself from the pettiness and chicanery that is all in a day’s work in Albany. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, new to elective office but obviously no stranger to the state capital, was thrown into the middle of the governor’s jihad against Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno this summer. He emerged with his dignity intact, no small accomplishment, and with a new reputation for impartiality.
Mr. Cuomo’s evenhanded probe, which led to the suspension of two of the governor’s staff, was conducted with a minimum of fanfare and was delivered with an equally scanty amount of self-righteousness. In that sense, his official demeanor offered quite a contrast to that of his predecessor, who now happens to be the governor. Mr. Spitzer has not quite made the transition from prosecutor to chief executive. Rather than build bridges and use his office to persuade and cajole, he has conducted himself like some avenging angel, treating those who opposed him as if they were criminals. Mr. Cuomo, on the other hand, has rendered his judgments clearly, but in a mature, professional manner. Hopefully, Mr. Spitzer noticed, and learned something.
Mr. Cuomo’s transformation from political operative to—dare we say it—fledging statesman is welcome. If he can continue to forge a reputation for competence and objectivity, he will not only stand out from the crowd in Albany, he’ll continue the remarkable personal journey he has made since dropping out of the 2002 gubernatorial campaign. Mr. Cuomo is a refreshing example of the opportunity American life offers to anyone who has the wisdom to recognize when he’s been given a second chance.
Five years ago, Mr. Cuomo’s long-planned effort to win elective office collapsed on the eve of the Democratic gubernatorial primary. It was hardly the most dignified exit for a man reared on state politics and with more than his fair share of ambition. In the years since, Mr. Cuomo repaired some of the bridges he had burned with the party’s rank and file, leading to his victory last year in the race for attorney general. If the 2002 campaign taught him something about humility, then the effort was not wasted.
Bear in mind, too, that Mr. Cuomo’s role in the Spitzer-Bruno controversy has been a diversion from the attorney general’s far more important probe of the nation’s student-loan racket. Mr. Cuomo’s office has barely skimmed the surface of this sleazy business, which has left students drowning in debt as they try to deal with six-figure loans with double-digit interest rates. Mr. Cuomo is focusing on the culpability of college officials in steering students to predatory lenders.
So in this summer of discontent with Albany, it’s good to note that at least the attorney general is doing his job. Perhaps some of his colleagues will go and do likewise.