Thursday, March 20, 2008

From Sordid to Soaring

Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, Don Vito, and Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno.
By Edmund F. “Ned” Brown, IV

Here are 3 political lessons you are unlikely to hear from the political pundits on television:

• Rarely does something happen by accident or coincidence in big-time politics.
• Successful politics is a game of addition, and making few enemies.
• You can learn a lot about how politicians survive and amass power by watching the “Godfather” movie series.

Which brings us to l’affaire Spitzer. Do you really believe that the IRS and the Feds happened to stumble on suspicious money transactions by the New Jersey madam that led to Client #9?

I happen to be a contrarian who believed that Eliot Spitzer’s brief political career was preordained by who he is and by his modus operandi. When Spitzer took his bare knuckles prosecutorial tactics to the State Attorney General’s office, he used neither discretion nor objectivity  --  two necessary qualities for a successful prosecutor if he wants to be seen as impartial. Spitzer used his slash and destroy tactics on some very powerful people in the business community who no doubt continued to harbor great resentment against the man. To their credit, these “victims” are not politically savvy, but they do have substantial financial means.

When the Spitzer tryst with Kristen was divulged, it was too convenient that she crossed state lines (a clear violation of the Mann Act), and that funds had been wired interstate (another federal crime)- both acts took it out of the State’s jurisdiction. The allegation is that former Gov. Spitzer had been indulging his outside sexual proclivities for many years, and that he spent a great deal of scratch paying for it. What I did not know until having dinner with some of my N.Y. politico friends last week, is that some of those close or protecting him, knew of his peccadilloes.

The facts in the Spitzer matter were revealed while I was at my firm in Washington, D.C., sitting in the office of one of my colleagues. As the facts unfolded on CNN, we looked at each other and simultaneously voiced who we suspected was behind the political “hit.”

No, the likely culprit’s name will not be divulged in NYSD, but he is already spreading the word that he was the one who orchestrated the hit. The hit-man in question is into self-promotion.

How would my colleague and I suspect this individual? Here are a few reasons: a) this person has a sordid history using these types of tactics, b) he had access and the confidence of some of Spitzer’s political and business enemies, and c) he likely got the nod from the political godfathers to execute the hit without retribution. Lessons learned from the Godfather.

Back to political tip #2 that politics is about addition and not making enemies. Spitzer’s attacks and feud with the State Senate Majority Leader, Joseph Bruno, a Republican, were well documented. The old Spitzer tactics blew up in the Governor’s face, leading to staff resignations, reprimands and an apology from Spitzer. Spitzer then began turning his guns on the very powerful New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a member of his own party. Spitzer was not only making enemies, he was making Superenemies in today’s political parlance.

The makings for Spitzer’s demise were in place. The money to support it was available, the Governor’s behavior was evident, and people who might have been able to protect him had become mortal enemies. All that was needed was someone to execute the plan and cover the tracks.

Unfortunately, with every hit there is collateral damage: the Spitzer women (Silda and her daughters) and the senior Spitzers (Eliot’s parents) who worked hard, sacrificed and gave all to their children. DPC has written much about Silda, and the few times I met her she was bright, engaging and attractive- a real lady. My prayers are with them in this trying time.

On a concluding note…where there is darkness in politics, there can also be light. Tuesday’s speech by Barack Obama on race in America and how we are collectively trying to manage through this reconciliation from generation to generation was a masterstroke of objectivity and understanding. The cynics will deride it as a political speech to save his campaign. Whether Obama gets the nomination or not, whether he wins the general election or not, his comments went beyond politics to try to help all Americans journey through this process to come together. Obama acknowledged that he is an imperfect human (as we all are), but collectively we are greater than the sum of our parts and that as a people, and as citizens, we should continue to perfect the concept that all men (and women) are created equal.

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