Off the Record Is Dead

If you’re an elected official, it’s pretty hard to have any off-the-record moments anymore, even among your closest friends. That’s the takeaway from NY1 reporter Josh Robin‘s review of Lloyd Constantine’s book about his one-time friend Eliot Spitzer.

The book is “more proof of the theory bubbling around Washington and New York that political loyalty has died, murdered by the position everyone is a memoirist-in-waiting,” Robin writes. “Treating even the First Lady’s anguish as on-the-record, Constantine spares no discretion, even for a man he believed was mentally ill.”

Here’s Robin:

“Journal of the Plague Year,” Lloyd Constantine’s slim, self-pitying profile of Eliot Spitzer’s term as New York’s governor, takes its name from Daniel Defoe’s fictional account of bacteria that consumed London in the 17th Century.
“A dreadful plague in London was/ In the year sixty-five/Which swept an hundred thousand souls/Away; yet I alive!”
There’s a pithier, if earthier quotation more representative of the Albany memoir. It ends with “who needs enemies?” The lawyer and former senior advisor in the Spitzer administration has milked the confidence his deeply-flawed friend bestowed. In exchange, Constantine gets to write a tell-all that purports to be a primer on lessons learned, but emerges a score-settling expose of events largely reported two years ago in The New York Times. It’s more proof of the theory bubbling around Washington and New York that political loyalty has died, murdered by the position everyone is a memoirist-in-waiting.

Constantine and Silda Wall Spitzer were the lone advocates of the Governor staying in office – a call Spitzer obviously rejected, even though the pair were closer to him than anyone else. The men first met in 1982 when the 23-year-old future “Sheriff of Wall Street” was Constantine’s law school intern at then-Attorney General Bob Abrams’ office. Mentor turned to friend and tennis partner, and, finally, in 2006 to Constantine closing up his partnership at his eponymous law firm and following the Governor to Albany.
More tellingly, Constantine was in Spitzer’s car during that extraordinary downtown journey from Spitzer’s apartment March 12, 2008, passing the ogling gaggles (including news helicopters, O.J-like). “The faces generally wore smiles, but many of those were the nervous or guilty smiles of people witnessing a motorcade headed to a public execution,” he writes. A few moments later, Spitzer resigned and Constantine began a suicide watch over the fallen governor.
Fourteen months earlier, of course, was Spitzer’s virtual coronation. Even as he rode to a record victory as New York’s 54th executive, the Democrat was allegedly carrying a secret that eluded even his best friend. Constantine admits he has no proof, but posits that Spitzer’s liaisons with prostitutes began during his final year as Attorney General. Constantine theorizes that the recognition that he would eventually be caught clouded Spitzer’s judgment. The rational, clear-eyed Harvard and Princeton grad was replaced by an “Imposter,” trudging though his once-ambitious agenda and fomenting unnecessary combat.
Whatever really happened, those seeking a comprehensive account of those head-scratching days will find them in numbing detail: the selection of a new State Comptroller; the Troopergate saga, where top Spitzer aides were found to have collected data on the state’s top Republican, State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno; and the ill-advised bid to change the subject with the awarding of driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. On that score, Constantine faults the Governor for eventually backing down, not acknowledging the plan was so haphazard in the first place that Spitzer’s biggest supporters begged him to hold off.
There are some new nuggets, some cringe-worthy even by Albany standards. Not even New York’s top judge was immune from a Spitzer tirade. The Governor, with David Paterson next to him, screamed so loud at Judith Kaye that she cried. As for Paterson, Constantine was right to have strong reservations about his fitness for office, but doesn’t provide evidence that Spitzer did.
Many saw Spitzer as the Empire State savior, and still rue the missed opportunities two years later, though the merry-go-round of scandals out of our Romper Room capital has a way of muting the pain. “What could have been” especially haunts Constantine, who fantasized about his own perch outside of Spitzer’s Oval Office desk. More immediately, with Spitzer’s fall came the impossibility Constantine would head the state’s underperforming public university system. With it too came a life forever tainted by his close connection to the Governor, as Constantine writes in one of the book’s more moving sections.

Psychological counseling notwithstanding, those losses may have been too much to bear. The result is this retributive book, which has severed Constantine’s friendship with the Governor. Treating even the First Lady’s anguish as on-the-record, Constantine spares no discretion, even for a man he believed was mentally ill. (He writes he made calls about admitting Spitzer to an out-of-state center for sexual compulsion).

As for the dénouement, Constantine found out from a crying Spitzer during the night of March 9, 2007. The Governor ordered his friend to arrive at the apartment by seven the next morning.

“Welcome to a Greek Tragedy,” was Spitzer’s greeting at the door.

Off the Record Is Dead