Can Spitzer Stop His Spiral?

It’s hard to see how he can sink any further: According to a Siena College poll this week, 51 percent of New Yorkers view Governor Eliot Spitzer unfavorably; 70 percent say he’s doing only a fair or poor job; and 56 percent say they’d prefer someone else to be governor in 2010, with just 23 percent inclined to vote for his reelection. Swept into office like a conquering hero with a huge mandate for change, Mr. Spitzer now looks like something the cat dragged in.

He does not, however, look like a man who gives up. The spectacularly dull-witted and ethically repulsive efforts of some of his top staffers to discredit State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno will not be soon forgotten. But if the governor shows himself an adroit and bold steward of the state’s long-term interests, he may earn back the support he so recklessly and arrogantly squandered.

One good way to start would be the upcoming budget negotiations. There will be no shortage of drama and posturing on all sides: There is a projected $4.3 billion budget gap that must be filled, and the current forecast for the state’s economy, heavily dependent on Wall Street, is shaky. Amid this climate of uncertainty, there will nevertheless be enormous pressure from the State Legislature to spend—2008 is an election year, and Albany’s elected officials will be loath to suggest to voters that any belt-tightening is needed. Moreover, Mr. Spitzer may be tempted to spend his way back to popularity. But he cannot afford to buy his reelection by pouring money into upstate and rural communities that have lost jobs and population. It’s time to end the continuous and growing flow of taxpayer dollars from downstate to upstate. He needs to be a governor who can control spending now.

This year, Governor Spitzer erred on the side of spending—his $121 billion budget drew rebukes from several nonpartisan budget watchdogs. A more prudent, fiscally restrained approach for 2008 would send a message that Mr. Spitzer is still serious about reform, and that he has not been distracted by the foibles of his first year in office from doing the job 70 percent of New Yorkers elected him to do.

Can Spitzer Stop His Spiral?