A handful of years back, after he resigned from the governorship of New York State following the disclosure that he was patronizing high-priced hookers, I found myself sitting in a restaurant, a yard or two from Elliott Spitzer.
It was a neighborhood kind of thing. He lived on Fifth Avenue, a few blocks to the west of the restaurant, Quatroze, on East 79th Street. At the time, I lived in the same general vicinity.
The disgraced governor and his wife, Silda, looked relaxed. He was dressed in Chinos, an open-necked dress shirt, and a blue blazer, nothing like either the suited television commentator he was at the time, or like the controversial governor he had been before that. His wife Silda also looked relaxed and was smiling. There was laughter at the table. They were with another couple, having a good time.
Real life, real pretty
What I remember most from that very New York-ish accidental celebrity sighting, if you can call it that, was that Silda in real life was much younger, much prettier, and much happier-looking than she had appeared on TV and in news photographs when, frowning and clearly unhappy, she stood next to Spitzer at a press conference and watched him field the shrapnel exploding from his self-inflicted scandal.
Presumably he had learned his lesson, if only the lesson that the principle difference between a $3,000 hooker and a $300 hooker is $2,700, and that ultimately paid sex is a tawdry and emotionally unsatisfying experience, a clear demonstration that there’s no place like home.
“Good!” I thought to myself. “Spitzer has a new career, and he and his wife have patched things up, and may they live happily ever after.”
Boy, was I wrong!
Yes, dammit! Again!
Reports have it that Spitzer and his wife are now living in separate domiciles. His television career failed. And – oh crap, not again! – he’s back in politics, running for the low-key office of City Comptroller.
All this comes to mind because of another philandering (sort of) political dropout, who couldn’t stay dropped out for long. I’m talking, of course, about Anthony Weiner, who has what one might say is an abnormal fondness for sending racy electronic notes and photographs of himself to strange women, culminating, some have said, in telephone conversations and phone sex.
Evidently, there’s no evidence that Weiner has ever met any of these women and had real live sex with them. This of course raises a question. What’s up with that – aside from Weiner’s hardon?
When Spitzer did his extracurricular thing, at least it culminated in sex. That was his reward for the huge risk he was taking. And it was huge, politically (as things turned out) but also in terms of sexually transmitted diseases, robbery, blackmail, all the pitfalls of paying to have sex with a strange woman.
The old adrenalin rush
But Weiner? As “Carlos Danger,” a nom de guerre that the columnist Gail Collins has already pleasured her readers with, Weiner was all risk and no reward. Or at least no reward except for the adrenalin rush of risk that he might have equally achieved by standing on one foot atop a high ledge on the Empire State Building and holding up a large sail.
That’s why he strikes so many as “weird” and “creepy.” Or to put it another way, while both Spitzer and Weiner have – shall we call them “impulse control issues? – Spitzer is a serial philanderer, but Weiner is a serial pervert, preferring some symbolic expression of dangerous sex to the real thing.
There’s been lots of speculation in the press about why Weiner’s attractive wife, Huma Abedin, puts up with it. One reason simply might be that they have a toddler at home, and staying together might be better for the child than divorce. Another more insidious theory making the rounds is that Houma is modeling herself after her mentor, Hillary Clinton, and has political ambitious of her own that Weiner might somehow aid and abet.
Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t shudder at that theory. From the little I’ve read about her she’s bright, competent and experienced. She’d certainly make a better mayor than her husband.
I suspect an Anthony Weiner mayoral administration would be saddled with scandal after scandal, turning the mayor’s attention away from the beehive of problems and conflicting needs that is New York City. Weiner was a Congressman, not an administrator. He’s talking a good line about what he wants to do for the city – minus, so far, any detailed specifics about how he'll do it. But there’s no indication that he can manage any of it, and plenty of indication that he can’t even manage himself.
High profile, high powered
Besides, where does Weiner think his career will go after he becomes mayor? No mayor in the last century has ever gone on to a more exalted office. The closest to that was the late Bill O’Dwyer, who resigned his mayoralty and then got appointed Ambassador to Mexico in the wake of a political scandal.
As for Spitzer, if he’s elected as Comptroller, he’ll be in charge of bonds and pension fund investments. He did an admirable job as New York Attorney General, devoting much of his AG efforts to breaking the fingers of any Wall Street master of the universe he could catch trying to snatch something from the cookie jar – or even thinking about it.
Consequently, much of Wall Street hates Spitzer’s guts. Maybe that means he’d be able to scare the best deals out of them when administering city money. But maybe that means they’d be out to take him down from the get-go, tripping him up with tricky deals. Or even paying a hooker to lure him into a bed bugged not with insects, but with electronics.
Undoing a Comptroller Spietzer would have to be easy.. Any fool who holds public office and pays for the illegal services of a prostitute with a credit card must be congenitally prone to screwing up.
Admittedly, most of the New York City electorate doesn’t seem to care. On the contrary, Weiner’s and Spitzer’s elevated name recognition has made them front runners, at least for now. But there’s a difference between an accidental philanderer and a habitual – well, whatever those two guys habitually have been, if they aren’t still. And eventually, in office or merely in the public eye, it will bring them down.
Post Script: After I posted this piece, I discovered that a just-released Marist Poll has Weiner already losing his lead, thanks to the latest revelations. Well, I've never seen any prediction I've made come true so quickly.