Eliot Spitzer recently unveiled an ambitious plan to allow illegal immigrants to obtain New York state driver’s licenses, winning support from The New York Times editorial page, invoking angry opposition from state Republicans, and garnering national attention across the board.
But the splashy initiative, which Mr. Spitzer’s advisers certainly hope will take attention from the lingering controversy over his aides’ use of state police to track a political opponent, is proving to be something of an irritant for one prominent political group: his fellow New York Democrats.
“I think he puts a lot of Democrats in an awkward position, especially on this issue,” said one Democratic staffer.
The staffer added that there are Democrats “who may want to support his reform agenda” but “did not like that this is the first, after the Troopergate issue has passed, that this is the thing he comes out of the box with.”
Judging by the statements of some of the state’s top Democratic officials about the Spitzer proposal, that sentiment was a common one.
Witness, if you will, the nonreactions of New York’s two U.S. Senators to what ought to have been a major piece of news.
Hillary Clinton, who is admittedly somewhat preoccupied with a campaign for president, hasn’t taken a position on this yet, and her Senate office didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story.
Her usually ubiquitous senior colleague, Charles Schumer, hasn’t had much to say either. “I have not looked at the details or spoken to Eliot Spitzer,” Mr. Schumer said when asked about it this weekend. He repeated the answer when asked about it the next day.
Though some Democrats in New York’s Congressional delegation have spoken up—Carolyn Maloney and Joe Crowley, from strongly Democratic districts, in favor; Kirsten Gillibrand, from a Republican-leaning area upstate, opposed—others have been paralyzed by the perceived potential for backlash.
Newly elected representative John Hall said that he’s for comprehensive immigration reform, but that he’s still studying the governor’s proposal. A message left for another freshman Democrat, Michael Hall of Utica, was not returned by press time.
Mr. Spitzer has said the proposal will bring illegal immigrants out of the shadows, allow them to buy car insurance, reduce instances of hit-and-run incidents and lower the cost of insurance for all drivers.
Republican opponents of the bill have been quick to question, loudly, whether this could be used by would-be terrorists, and whether it unjustly rewards lawbreakers. By and large, they clearly regard the issue as a big political liability for the opposition.
The Democratic staffer, at least privately, seemed to agree.
“Was this the best policy to put forth after getting this distraction of Troopergate behind us?” said the Democratic staffer. “It wasn’t an environmental policy, it wasn’t children’s health care. It was this. I think that is tough.”
After a speech delivered at Fordham University on the morning of Oct. 2, Mr. Spitzer said, “I think the state party is very well unified, with some exceptions, of course. Like I’ve said, people are entitled to divergent views. It’s what policy debates are all about. I think there is a fair degree of unanimity within the Democratic Party that this is the right way to go.”
Whether that will remain true once the party’s leading figures have gotten around to announcing their positions is another question entirely.