Like most of you who attended institutions of higher learning, there’s always a few people you notice who seem pre-destined to fast track to success.
They’re the ones who are dressed in perfectly pressed oxfords and wrinkle-free slacks while the rest of us are in Levis and T-shirts. They carry trim leather briefcases to class in lieu of bulky knapsacks or book bags.
They often run virtually unopposed in student elections and their campaign speeches sound like they were written by William Safire.
At graduation their names are repeatedly called to the podium to accept various awards or to deliver the valedictory speech.
Although I attended neither Princeton nor Harvard, I’m guessing that Eliot Spitzer fit the above description while attending those schools.
I’m not going to use this space to revisit the sordid prostitution scandal that forced his resignation as governor of New York after just 437 days in office as there are certainly enough outlets that are doing just that, but rather, wonder how history will judge his early and often successful, crusades to reform Wall Street.
Depending upon whom you ask, the financial industry reforms implemented as a result of his office’s investigations and lawsuits had mixed results.
During his eight years as New York Attorney General Spitzer took on a number of Wall Street’s big boys, a highlight of which included his securing a landmark $1 billion-plus settlement with several firms stemming from suspect stock research. That ruling resulted in the industry separating their banking and research arms.
Not surprisingly investor advocates lauded the change, but
according to reports, stock researchers are now paid less while many have exited the category altogether in favor of hedge funds.
Later he set his sights on the mutual fund and insurance industries which resulted either in large settlements for a flurry of resignations.
Because of his reform-minded zeal to reign in the excesses of Wall Street, Spitzer became a multi-year member of Accounting Today’s Top 100 Most Influential roster, which as early as 2002, said that his post as AG was merely a formal stepping stone to the New York State governor’s mansion in Albany.
But things began to unravel when he almost obsessively pursued former New York Stock Exchange President Richard Grasso for an exorbitant pay package that the NYSE’s compensation committee had approved.
When he was elected governor by the most lopsided margin in New York State history, he intoned with language that would make a stevedore blush, that he was a “f,,,ing steamroller” that was going to clean up what was arguably one of the country’s worst-run state governments.
Instead of implementing true reform his office adopted a Nixonian atmosphere and unlawfully used the state police to spy on one of his main detractors in the State Senate.
Spitzer, who no doubt entertained ambitions of higher political offices, suffered a career and personal free fall that was as rapid as it was stunning.
When the fires eventually subside, I wonder if he will reflect on whether he may have missed the most obvious target in need of reform – himself.
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