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Spitzer, New York Attorney General, Announces Campaign for Governor

The Democrat, known for investigating Wall Street, says he will clean up a corrupt Legislature.

December 08, 2004|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

New York state Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer announced Tuesday that he would run for governor in 2006, pledging to attack corruption and complacency in the Legislature as he has prosecuted wrongdoing on Wall Street.

Spitzer -- whose aggressive investigations of insurance companies, mutual fund lenders and investment houses have generated national headlines -- said his goal would be to make government more responsive and accountable.

"Right now, New York government is all about partisanship and gridlock," the 45-year-old attorney general said in an announcement on his campaign website. "I want to fix what's broken.... I bring people together whether they like it or not and we tackle complex problems."

Republican Gov. George E. Pataki said of Spitzer's decision: "I believe in the democratic system. The more the merrier." Pataki has not said whether he will seek a fourth term, although many GOP insiders expect him to run.

Others have speculated about the chances of former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani becoming a candidate.

Spitzer's announcement, widely expected, appeared to give him a clear shot at the Democratic nomination. Last month, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who was seen as his potential rival, said he would not run.

A recent Zogby International poll that assessed potential matchups showed Spitzer ahead of Pataki 44% to 41%; Giuliani, however, led Spitzer by a 52%-36% margin. Although Pataki has won three elections handily, New York remains a heavily Democratic state.

"Spitzer is a candidate who strikes fear in the heart of corporate America, and that will serve him well as he aims at the governor's mansion," said Frank Luntz, a national pollster who once worked for Giuliani. "He's a tough competitor."

The attorney general's announcement came two days before he was scheduled to hold a $1,000-per-person luncheon in New York City; the event is expected to add $2 million to the $5.5 million in contributions Spitzer has on hand. He has received endorsements from some of the state's top Democrats, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo.

"There's no question Eliot Spitzer has a bright political future in New York politics," said Fred Siegel, a professor of political science at Cooper Union and a fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. "But he will be facing an unusual set of pressures and expectations if he runs a successful race for governor."

The problem, Siegel said, is that Spitzer has focused almost all of his prosecutorial activities on Wall Street-related scandals; he has not grappled with the New York Legislature's notorious problems of scandal and political inertia.

"People are going to have enormous expectations for statewide reform if Spitzer becomes governor," Siegel said. "But whether he would be able to overcome such deeply entrenched special interests in Albany is another question entirely."

In July, an academic study concluded that New York had the nation's most dysfunctional Legislature. In 11 of 14 categories measuring legislative performance, New York came in last or was tied for last, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law.

Only 4.1% of the bills proposed in New York became law in 2002, compared with 69% in Michigan, which was ranked highest in the country. California, by comparison, had 41% of its bills passed, according to the study.

The state also is plagued by a perception that Albany is run by a trio of powerful leaders: Pataki, Silver and Republican state Senate Leader Joseph L. Bruno. Silver and Bruno are among a handful of legislative leaders in the country who single-handedly can freeze action on bills or determine the order in which they are considered, the report found.

The son of a millionaire New York developer, Spitzer was educated at Princeton and Harvard. He gained attention working as a deputy to Manhattan Dist. Atty. Robert Morgenthau, heading the labor racketeering unit.

Although he ran poorly in the 1994 Democratic primary for attorney general, Spitzer won a narrow race four years later against GOP incumbent Dennis Vacco. He was easily reelected in 2002.

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