NEW YORK - APRIL 7: "EXCLUSIVE" Former New York Governor and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer works at the family firm started by his father Bernard Spitzer on 5th Avenue and goes about his business on the streets of New York on April 10, 2009 in New York, NY. On March 10, 2008, The New York Times reported that Spitzer was a client of a prostitution ring under investigation by the federal government. Two days later, he announced his resignation as governor of New York, effective March 17, citing "private failings". (Photo by Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)
Six years ago, when the Democratic Party talked about rising stars who were presidential timber, the first name that came up on most lists wasn’t Barack Obama.
It was Eliot Spitzer.
“He was an enormous force. He was probably the most powerful public official outside of Washington,” author Peter Elkind told TODAY’s Ann Curry Monday in New York. He was, Elkind added, on a path to become the first Jewish president of the United States.
Spitzer’s world and career came crashing down in a prostitution scandal in 2008. The man who had gone from New York’s attorney general to governor was forced to resign in disgrace.
Elkind chronicles how it all went wrong in his newly published book, “Rough Justice: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer.”
“There’s no question this was absolute insanity,” Elkind said when Curry asked why a sitting governor would take the enormous risk of patronizing high-end escorts. “It was absolute lunacy.”
But even so, Elkind did not rule out the 50-year-old Spitzer, who has been working to repair his image, from running for office again.
‘You must be Superman!’
Spitzer was so addicted to prostitutes, Elkind writes, that he once ordered up three in the same afternoon, using the pseudonym “George Fox.” Although Spitzer denies the story, Elkind stands by it.
“On one occasion, George Fox had booked an appointment in the late morning at the Mark Hotel, on the Upper East Side, just five minutes’ walk from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As usual, he paid the girl in cash — about $1,200 an hour. Not long after it was over, he called (the booker) back, wanting to see a second escort. ‘Who else is around?’ he asked. (The booker) made the arrangements,” Elkind wrote.
Then, late that afternoon, (Spitzer) called again.
‘You’re going to think I'm crazy,’ he began. ‘But can you send somebody else right now?’
He wanted a third girl? The booker chuckled: ‘You must be Superman! The Man of Steel!’ ”
Elkind wrote that Spitzer also flew his favorite escort, “Angelina,” into Puerto Rico for an assignation. He wrote that Spitzer did not like to make friends with the escorts, and treated them strictly as sex objects, which the escorts did not like. He also didn’t like to use a condom, according to Elkind.
Born to privilege
Eliot Spitzer was born to money and privilege. A native of the Bronx, his father, Bernard Spitzer, made his fortune in real estate. His mother, Anne Spitzer, was a professor of English literature.
There were frequent debates at the dinner table in the Spitzer home, and Elkind says young Eliot began reading The New York Times daily at the age of 10.
The brilliant boy went to the Horace Mann School, a private prep school in New York, and then to Princeton for his undergraduate degree. He went on to Harvard for his law degree.
It was at Harvard that he met his wife-to-be, Silda Wall. They met on a ski trip and were not an obvious match.
“Nothing seemed more improbable than her relationship with Eliot Spitzer,” writes Elkind, who estimates he interviewed Spitzer in person 15 times over the past two years while working on the book and did another 20 to 30 phone interviews. “He was a non-practicing Jew, New York City, and rich; she was a churchgoing Southern Baptist, small-town North Carolina, and middle-class.”
Silda had been briefly married while at Harvard to Peter Spiro Stamos, but 29 days after the wedding, the couple separated. Silda would not talk to Elkind about the brief marriage. Silda and Eliot Spitzer have three daughters, 20-year-old Elyssa, 17-year-old Sarabeth, and 15-year-old Jenna.
‘Sheriff of Wall Street’
After a brief time in private practice, Spitzer went into public service, eventually becoming New York State’s attorney general, where his relentless pursuit of the financial industry earned him the nickname “Sheriff of Wall Street.”
His prosecutions of the rich and powerful also made him many enemies, and there was cheering on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange when he resigned in disgrace as governor.
Elkind writes that Silda had criticized Hillary Clinton for standing by her man during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but found herself doing the same thing when her husband’s infidelity hit the newspapers.
“While Silda had once snickered about Hillary Clinton standing dutifully by her cheating man, she had decided to do just that,” Elkind writes in the book. “This ritual show of support had become a cliché of the American political sex scandal, and some viewed it as yet another cruel humiliation ... In truth, her choice that afternoon didn’t result from much discussion or thought. Silda was shocked and furious. But mostly, she was numb, operating on habit and instinct. Both steered her to stand by Eliot — at least for now. They’d done all of this together. She believed in that vow — for better or worse. And it was important for their girls, especially in the throes of a public cataclysm.”
Elkind goes on to say that Silda somehow blamed herself for what happened.
“On some level, this is my fault,” she told Spitzer’s close adviser, Lloyd Constantine, who was interviewed for the book. “The wife is supposed to take care of the sex. This is my failing; I wasn’t adequate,” Constantine says she added.
Spitzer had been patronizing high-end prostitutes from the Emperor’s Club escort service since 2006, Elkind reports, spending $100,000 on about 20 visits. Although New Jersey escort Ashley Dupre, who currently appears in a Playboy photo feature, was the woman who became the face of his infidelity, Elkind said that Spitzer actually saw her just once. Another escort, the one who went by the name Angelina, was his favorite. She was also the first escort to realize that the customer who identified himself as “George Fox” was actually Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York and a man touted as a future presidential candidate.
Elkind reports that Spitzer did not like to use a condom and was brusque and all-business during his sessions.
When the revelations came out and it was obvious that his career was over, Spitzer had to tell his family.
“That afternoon, he gathered his resolve and his family — and did the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life. He told first his wife, then Elyssa, Sarabeth, and Jenna: he’d been deceiving them in a way utterly beyond their worst imagining. In tears, he begged them to someday forgive him.
“ ‘The pain of looking at Silda and telling her what I had to tell her makes everything I left behind politically pale in comparison,’ he said later,” Elkind wrote
The one thing that Spitzer could console himself with was the fact he kept his family together.
“ ‘An affair begins to connote an emotional relationship,’ Spitzer explained. ‘If I had had an affair, I’d still be governor, but I might not be married. In the grand scheme of things, I’m glad I am where I am,’ ” he told Elkind.
Asked in the current issue of Fortune magazine whether he is happy, Spitzer replied: “Other than the obvious agony, life is great. One thing I will never do, I hope, is wallow in self-pity. I’ve got an amazing wife who has been forgiving in ways that are beyond human. Three great kids. I’m loving what I do day to day.
“You pick yourself up and go on.”