New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has resigned, due to his involvement as a customer in a prostitution ring. Things happened quickly. A man and three women were arraigned for running an online prostitution ring on Thursday. The New York Times broke the story of Spitzer’s involvement on Monday afternoon. Wednesday morning, Spitzer announced his resignation. There being little question of the truth of the allegations in the Times story, combined with Spitzer’s confrontational and spotty record as governor, the swiftness of his departure is little surprise. If he had not acted, the decision would have been made for him.
After the resignation announcement, the U.S. District Attorney’s office released a statement that said the resignation was not part of any plea deal. That is good. Prosecutors should not be in the business of forcing elected officials, or private citizens, for that matter, to quit their jobs in order to avoid prosecution. Such actions would overstep their responsibilities. District attorneys are not HR departments.
One question that has dominated coverage of the scandal has been “why?” Why would a powerful man, why would powerful men, in general, risk losing everything they worked for, just for sex? We’ve been reminded of all the familiar faces of recent sex scandals in the last three days. Larry Craig, David Vitter, Jim McGreevey, and, of course, Bill Clinton. Over all of these men hangs that question of “why?” ABC News even brought in psychologists to help explain such self-destructive behavior. The lure of power, the corrupting influence of power, all the usual suspects that would be valid if only the rest of us didn’t engage in such behavior ourselves.
The central tragedy of the Spitzer scandal is marital infidelity. Crimes were committed, yes, but it’s the lasting damage to Spitzer’s family life that will outlast any potential legal action. There is nothing new about infidelity. Spouses, male and female, cheat on their significant others every day. In the real world, relationships frequently end because one party found happiness, if fleeting, in another’s arms. The Spitzer scandal is especially lurid, owing to the prostitution angle, but the behavior itself is less than shocking. It’s the betrayal of public trust that is shocking. While his infidelity may be unforgivable (only his wife and children know for sure), and is inexcusable, the “why?” of it all is as simple for a governor as it is for a twenty-dollar John in Hunt’s Point. He wanted sex, found a way to get it that happened to be illegal, and thought he wouldn’t get caught. Just because what he did is unsavory, doesn’t mean it’s the sole province of the powerful.
As for holding our leaders to a higher standard, his resignation proves that Spitzer got something right in this affair.