When Governor Eliot Spitzer announced his support for the Democratic candidate on the day before this week’s election for district attorney on Staten Island—the only competitive race in the whole city—he did so via press release.
He did not hold a press conference with the candidate, and he didn’t visit the district to campaign.
Nor did Mr. Spitzer make any Election Day appearances in Suffolk County, where a number of competitive races were to determine control of the county legislature and a number of key town-wide offices.
From the perspective of local Democratic officials, this was just as well.
Richard Schaffer, the Democratic county chairman in Suffolk, said that Mr. Spitzer’s nonappearance was “not surprising.”
Asked what would happen if Mr. Spitzer were to appear in Suffolk, he said, “I think he would be standing by himself.”
Since his lopsided election as governor late last year, Mr. Spitzer has somehow gone from rising national star to radioactive liability. The governor’s achievements in this regard were as systematic as they were well-documented.
In January, he picked and lost a fight with the powerful Democratic majority in the State Assembly over the appointment of a state comptroller. In February, he led a largely unsuccessful charge against the powerful health care worker’s union in a bid to contract the state’s hospital system. Starting in July, he has gotten the worst of a running feud with State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, managing the incredible feat of simultaneously triggering multiple public investigations into his own office and turning the cantankerous upstate conservative into a sympathetic figure.
Then, in late September—in what was surely a bid to change the subject—the governor first proposed a sweeping plan to allow illegal immigrants to obtain state driver’s licenses (enraging conservatives and vulnerable Democrats in swing districts), then reversed himself by watering it down to comply with the Bush administration’s wishes (enraging pro-immigration liberals).
“If he continues this style he’s going to alienate enough people so that it will reach a point where he’ll look to his left and he’ll look to his right and he’ll look around and say ‘Oh, my God, who are my allies?” said Jose Peralta, a Democratic assemblyman from Queens who, like many of his colleagues, consider themselves allies of a governor in a situation they never anticipated.
It’s still three years before Mr. Spitzer faces voters for reelection. But if he continues as he has done so far, Mr. Peralta wondered aloud, “who is he going to turn to with the electorate?”
Representative Anthony Weiner, a Democrat who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, sees a parallel between Mr. Spitzer’s current situation with the license proposal and the fallout during Bill Clinton’s first term in the White House following the introduction of his health care plan.
“This might be Bill Clinton’s 1993: good smart policy that hasn’t been well thought out politically,” Mr. Weiner said. “What’s troubling a lot of people is that we lost Congress in ’94. That’s the question here. There’s plenty of time here, and every day the governor seems to understand that. But it’s hard to say in the middle of a storm whether it’s getting better.”
Mr. Weiner, who also is a member of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, added, “I probably could have told him what to expect. I probably would have given him the advice to go with the policy he ended up with.”
As things have gotten steadily worse for Mr. Spitzer, few New York Democrats have felt compelled to jump to his rescue. He is, to a remarkable extent, alone. “I think what’s startling here is we’re talking about a governor who got elected a year ago with 69 percent of the vote,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg. “We’re talking about a governor who as recently as February had favorability ratings in the mid-70’s. So I think it is the way, the speed with which his personal popularity has fallen that has startled many and has caused this.”
State party officials dispute the notion that Mr. Spitzer has become an unwelcome presence for Democrats.
Edna Ishayik, the party’s executive director, pointed out that the governor had made campaign appearances in a number of upstate counties in the weeks before the elections, and had recently attended a fund-raiser in Nassau County for legislative candidates.
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