When David Paterson, both blind and black, takes the oath of office in Albany tomorrow to replace his disgraced boss, Eliot Spitzer, as Governor of the great state of New York (not so great just now) he may echo what Gerald Ford told the country when he found himself unexpectedly elevated to the presidency to succeed the equally rotten Richard Nixon: the shared nightmare is over, let's move on.
Few tribes in the world are more practical than New Yorkers, and dwelling for too long over past disappointments is not their style. In the big city especially, attention spans are short. And it is not as if they have not seen this kind of fall from grace before. From Nixon fast forward to Bill Clinton and Monica – does Hillary wish none of this were happening? You bet she does – as does Larry Craig, the Republican Senator still clinging to office in spite of a wandering foot in a gentlemen's lav.
Curiously, this corner of the land is used to this kind of statehouse brouhaha. It is the Bermuda Triangle of governors. In less than four years we have seen James McGreevey resign in New Jersey after his "I am a gay American" confession, and John Rowland do the same in Connecticut when he got fingered for corruption. Now it is New York's turn, that's all. But that is not all, and Mr Paterson, a Harlem politician whose gracious ways have earned him the kind of affection in Albany that the steamrolling, super-smarty-pants Spitzer never enjoyed, must know that this bomb has not done exploding, for two reasons: it will take considerably more time for New Yorkers to compute the idiocies that Spitzer committed and, second, there may well be more shoes waiting to drop.
No dinner-table conversation this weekend in Manhattan will not open and close with Spitzer as topic A. Among unsubstantiated (and unlikely) theories doing the rounds: that Silda Spitzer, for whom we have felt such sympathy, knew of her husband's hooker liaisons, even condoned them rather than having sex with him herself or his acquiring a mistress. (Had it been a mistress in Spitzer's closet, he would probably have been spared immolation.)
Fathoming the mysteries of other people's marriages is a fool's game. But we are surely entitled to try to understand what cranial short-circuits occur in people of power to drive them to such jaw-dropping recklessness. We are compelled to, in fact, first because it happens so often and second because with Spitzer the ironies and the wild hypocrisies are too gob-smacking to ignore. His sanctimony upon taking office was undiluted. He would scour the corruption from the creaky vessel of Albany. Among his first acts: the forcing out of office of the just re-elected state comptroller Alan Hevesi (also a friend) because he had used a state car and chauffeur to drive his ailing wife around. How does that look now?
Sex scandals, meanwhile, are always hard to put down, especially if the other party puts herself in the spotlight. We all now know call-girl "Kristen" – actually struggling musician Ashley Alexandra Dupré – better than Spitzer did, though not, of course, in the biblical sense. We know where she lives (fancy apartment on West 25th), her rent ($4,000 per month), how well she can sing (not bad, but the Myspace page where she warbled has been taken down), where she was born (Bellmawr, New Jersey), and what she told a colleague at the Emperor's Club agency when she realised the identity of her incognito $4,300-an-hour trick ("Oh my God, do you know who this guy is?"). She might even get a recording or modelling contract out of all this; but the only dotted line Spitzer will be signing on is likely to be on court papers.
Lust or greed (for money or still more power) is what trips these men up, coupled with a belief that the positions they hold somehow put them above the law. It is always men, isn't it? For Nixon it was power, for Clinton, Gary Hart (whose presidential campaign was shattered by tales of a mistress) and Craig (maybe – he says he was set up) it was lust.
More chilling is how often they are caught doing those things they have spent their public careers denouncing. Craig's political capital was largely built upon trying to turn back the growing acceptance of the gay lifestyle in America. Ted Haggard, a Colorado mega-church pastor, also liked to target the "sins" of gay people until he was felled by revelations of massages and drugs bought from a male escort. Former Florida US congressman Mark Foley saw his conservative, family-values career incinerated over text messages (of the "you-seem-well-hung" variety) delivered from his office to under-age page boys on Capitol Hill.
The greater the hypocrisy the more delicious the downfall? Maybe. There were whoops of joy at the New York Stock Exchange when the scandal broke last Monday because it was hunting down and prosecuting malfeasance by financiers on Wall Street while state Attorney General that turned Spitzer into the political powerhouse who won almost 70 per cent of the vote in the gubernatorial election of 2006 – a record margin for a non-incumbent in this state. The cheerers smelled payback. But the emotions of most New Yorkers this weekend are more complicated, ranging from disbelief to disgust and anger.
Some are revolted by the acts, and the revelation that Spitzer was spending about $10,000 a month over eight months to enjoy them. Among details exposed in the wiretapped communications between himself and the prostitution enterprise he chose to use, the Emperor's Club VIP, is his apparent distaste for using condoms. (Great role model.) Disturbing too are the realities emerging about "Kristen", who he met in Room 871 of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Far from the sophisticated "swimsuit model" the ring sold her as to Spitzer, she turns out to be an abused child of a broken home in New Jersey, who had a history of drug use. Did Spitzer care to know about this, or that she was not 24 as advertised but a more tender 22? Doubtful.
Others shedding no tears for Spitzer may be bothered by even smaller details: to enable the Mayflower liaison, he reserved a second room, as well as his own, and left the door ajar for "Kristen" to walk in and await his arrival. He booked it in the name of George Fox, one of his best friends and biggest donors. Did Mr Fox know about this? Apparently not. It is a tiny betrayal perhaps, but telling. Couldn't he just have made a name up?
But most dumbfounding is his doing all this and thinking, like others before him, that he wouldn't get caught, unless you subscribe to the school that says men like him want to get caught. Spitzer was found out because two banks alerted the authorities to suspicious money movements in his accounts last year. On instructions from the Emperor's Club he had been putting cash in shell corporations as payment for its services. When the feds tied those corporations to the ring they guessed what Spitzer was up to and arranged the wire taps, which led to the arrest of four of the club's managers 10 days ago and, last week, to his own exposure as "Client 9". These tools – wiretaps and scrutiny of money movements – are precisely those that Spitzer so skilfully used to snag the wrongdoers of Wall Street. He used them also to break up prostitution rings in the New York area – three times.
Of all people to make such mistakes, Spitzer should have been the last. He knew the law. And it is the money machinations that may yet give this scandal more chapters. Immediately after his resignation on Wednesday, the New York prosecutor's office released a statement saying that no deal had been struck with Spitzer on avoiding possible criminal charges. Among the areas where he may be vulnerable: moving a person across state lines for immoral purposes, using state or campaign funds to pay for these services – sources insist no public money was dipped into – and trying to disguise or "structure" payments to avoid them being traced to their source, himself.
Maybe prosecutors will let New York rest and Mr Paterson do his new job, concluding that loss of office and dignity (and family trust) is punishment enough. Gerald Lefcourt, a former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, thinks charging Spitzer on any of these counts would be "stretching federal statutes to a place they've never been". But of course, stretching old statutes was precisely the game Spitzer played when he was busy hauling whole institutions on Wall Street over the coals. What was good for the goose, you might argue, is good for the (almost) ex-governor.
* In 1986, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart was pictured leaving a motel with a prostitute. He was caught again In 1991.
* Jonathan Aitken lied about staying at the Paris Ritz at the expense of prominent Saudi Arabian friends while a defence minister. Was jailed for perjury and perverting justice.
* Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503) is widely thought to have bribed his way to the job. Also fathered a string of illegitimate children, including Lucrezia Borgia.
* In 1956, Liberace sued columnist Cassandra for suggesting he was gay, and won. But he in turn was sued for $113m by his male ex-lover.
* Jesus condemned the pharisees as hypocrites, saying: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer."Reuse content