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Could Spitzer's
Woes Have a Silver Lining?

Could Spitzer's
Woes Have a Silver Lining?


The New York governor's prostitution scandal could leave his very pro-gay lieutenant governor, David Paterson, holding the reins.

Revelations jump-started by a story in The New York Times that New York governor Eliot Spitzer had been tied to a prostitution ring surged through the LGBT community Monday afternoon. Spitzer campaigned in 2006 on a pledge that he would sponsor a same-sex marriage bill and sign that bill into law should it reach his desk.

Though Spitzer did, in fact, introduce a bill to legalize same-sex marriage last year and the state assembly passed that bill toward the end of their 2007 session, the Spitzer administration overall has been plagued with low approval ratings. Among other things, Spitzer's top aides were accused of misusing state troopers to essentially investigate Republican senate majority leader Joseph Bruno.

"He has taken beating on that," said Prof. Kenneth Sherrill of Hunter College, adding that Spitzer had basically eroded any "reservoir of good will" that he entered office with in January 2007. After winning the 2006 election in a landslide, Spitzer has been especially combative with senate Republicans and famously referred to himself as a "steamroller" who would literally roll right over anyone that got in his way.

But Spitzer's future now seems dim. He made a brief statement Monday afternoon flanked by his wife and did not deny allegations that he had arranged a meeting with a prostitute last month. "I have acted in a way that violates my obligation to my family and violates my or any sense of right or wrong," Spitzer said. "I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public to whom I promised better."

Political insiders said it would be very difficult for Spitzer to continue on and be an effective leader for the state. "Obviously he would be deeply politically wounded by this," said one LGBT analyst with close ties to the state party who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "He prosecuted prostitution rings as attorney general and he said some pretty strong things about them. If he tried to hold on, he could be so criticized and embarrassed that his political leverage would be zero."

The same analyst wagered that the governor's wife, Silda Spitzer, would play a big part in his decision over the coming days. "I could see his wife, who's a very smart, feisty lawyer, say, 'Listen, let's get the heck out of the public fish bowl,'" said the source.

Sherrill compared the situation to that of U.S. senator David Vitter of Louisiana, who has so far weathered the storm caused when his phone number turned up in the records of a woman who allegedly ran a prostitution ring in Washington, D.C. "The chances of Spitzer surviving this as governor of New York are much lower than the chances of David Vitter surviving as a U.S. senator," said Sherrill. "First of all, a senator can disappear in certain ways while a governor has day-to-day events and responsibilities -- the state has a budget to pass in the next two months."

If Spitzer were to resign, Lt. Gov. David Paterson would assume the responsibilities of governor, which most LGBT activists guessed would be the best-case scenario for gays and lesbians in the state. Paterson, a legally blind African American who represented Harlem in the state senate for nearly 20 years, has typically been ahead of his time on gay issues over the years.

"David Paterson is a terrific, progressive guy -- extremely LGBT-friendly," said Ethan Geto, a Democratic analyst and LGBT activist. "He is somebody who would absolutely follow through on the commitment of the senate Democratic conference to pass gay marriage."

Paterson has been on record in support of marriage equality as early as 1994. When Paterson was asked if he would take part in pushing through the marriage bill following his inauguration in January 2007, he told the New York Blade , "I'm not going to be in that fight -- I'm going to be in front of that fight because my first day as [senate minority leader] was the day we passed the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act. One of the reasons we need same-sex marriage is because the statistics for heterosexual marriage are so bad; that might be a way to upgrade some of the success rates."

As far back as 1987, Paterson refused to pass a state hate-crimes bill that didn't provide protections for gays and lesbians. "He was willing to let everything go down rather than to exclude us," Sherrill recalled.

Ultimately, LGBT leaders with knowledge of New York's political landscape suggested that a Spitzer resignation might work in the community's favor.

"If Spitzer resigns, it might be a blessing in disguise from an LGBT agenda point of view," said the anonymous source. "Spitzer would likely be damaged goods whereas Paterson won't have that baggage."

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