Why I'm teaming with Eliot Spitzer on CNN
In the catalogue of life-altering surprises, few compare to the query I received a few weeks ago from CNN/US President Jon Klein: "How would you like to co-anchor a prime time show?"
Surely neither drum roll nor punch line is necessary at this point. My co-anchor would be Eliot Spitzer, former governor and attorney general of New York, variously known as the sheriff of Wall Street and the "disgraced" politician who resigned after it was revealed that he had consorted with prostitutes.
No one needs a rehash of those events, though there's plenty available for schadenfreude addicts.
My initial reaction was the same as most everybody else's when they first hear about it: Do what? The proposal was so counterintuitive on its face that I was disinclined.
Then I became curious. Why not hear them out?
Thus I found myself on a train from Washington to New York to meet Spitzer. We drank coffee and spoke frankly about the possibilities and the probable obstacles. I had read everything I could about Spitzer, including "Rough Justice," the story of his rise and fall by Fortune magazine editor Peter Elkind.
I suspect that most non-New Yorkers, especially those who skip the financial pages, knew little of Spitzer before his political downfall. But a great story preceded Spitzer's arrival in Albany.
As state attorney general, Spitzer brought legal action against Merrill Lynch for promoting worthless stocks to retail markets to increase the stockbrokerage firms' investment banking revenue. His efforts led to a 2002 global settlement of $1.4 billion between regulators and the 10 largest Wall Street firms. Later, his team of investigators found that some mutual funds were letting preferred clients take advantage of lower prices after markets had closed.
He was prescient about Wall Street, in other words, long before the recent financial crisis. Who wouldn't be interested in what he has to say about financial reform today?
I'm not defending Spitzer or condoning his behavior. Ultimately, I decided that his obvious intelligence, insights and potential contributions outweighed his other record. As far as I'm concerned, especially given that he has resigned from public office, the flaws that brought Spitzer down are between him and his family. Like most Americans, I believe in redemption.