N.Y. Governor Moves to Limit Ethics Scandal
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
NEW YORK, July 24 -- Confronting his first significant political scandal since taking office, Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer of New York sought Tuesday to stem the fallout from a report by the state attorney general indicating that his aides had wrongly used police assistance to plant a damaging newspaper article about his chief rival, state Sen. Joseph L. Bruno.
The scandal is being seen here as particularly noteworthy because it tars Spitzer, a popular Democrat who came to office less than seven months ago with a clean-cut image, in an ethics row with Bruno, a Republican who is the majority leader in the Senate and one of New York's most powerful politicians.
Democrats are concerned about whether Spitzer, a dogged former prosecutor who has endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in the 2008 presidential election, can quell the scandal soon enough to avoid long-term damage. Most at risk, analysts say, is Spitzer's credibility in forging ahead with one of his top goals: changing the ethical climate in Albany.
"The worry now is that this is going to become a distraction for the Democrats, turning Bruno into a victim and a cause celebre," said George Arzt, a New York Democratic political consultant and former Spitzer aide.
The report by the state attorney general's office, released Monday, outlined how Spitzer aides, including his communications director, Darren Dopp, contacted the State Police for information about Bruno's use of government aircraft and ground transportation for several trips. The details were sought, according to the report, under the false pretense of responding to a Freedom of Information Law request from the news media.
The data were later provided by the governor's office to the Albany Times Union, which published an article about the trips July 1.
Spitzer was not implicated and denied any knowledge of the scheme. Additionally, the attorney general's report said no laws were broken, either by Spitzer's aides or by Bruno, whose trips were deemed in line with state guidelines.
However, the report recommended "appropriate disciplinary action" for the ethical lapses and misuse of State Police time.
Spitzer responded Monday by condemning his aides' actions and suspending Dopp indefinitely while transferring another aide who was involved to a job outside the governor's office.
But Spitzer, dogged again Tuesday by questions from reporters, sought to put them to rest by saying he had personally apologized to Bruno and taken the disciplinary action. Adding to the drama, Lt. Gov. David Paterson fainted and was hospitalized while he and Spitzer were traveling together in Upstate New York on Tuesday.
"The report has led to a closure of the inquiry by the attorney general, properly so in my view," Spitzer told reporters in Buffalo. "I've imposed sanctions; we are ready to stand for integrity in government."
The governor may be aided by one finding of the attorney general's report, which says that though Bruno's use of state transportation for trips was legal, on some trips legislative business occupied only a small part of his day. The report recommended a tightening of "overly permissive and porous laws that allow for an abuse of taxpayer funds."
Nevertheless, Bruno accused the Spitzer administration of using the same type of tricks the governor had vowed to clean up when he came to office.
"This governor has chosen to politicize his office in ways no other governor in history has done," Bruno said in a written statement.