The Sheriff of Wall Street

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 12, 2008

Eliot SpitzerIt’s kind of sad. A brilliant governor with an exciting future brought low because he couldn’t keep his penis in his pants. From all reports, he seemed to be happily married with an adorning wife and three devoted children. Yet, he could not resist the lure of high-class prostitutes on his occasional visits to Washington, D.C.

He needed the exhilaration that comes from living on the edge; the excitement that transgressive behavior generates. Here is a man who knew the dangers of getting involved in a prostitution ring trying to hide the payments he made and sources from which these payments came. He had prosecuted such rings before. Yet, the unfolding drama called for a playwright of Euripides’s stature (he was a Greek playwright), to capture the tragic nature of Governor Eliot Spitzer’s fall from grace.

The Greeks had a word for this kind of behavior. They called it hubris: that is, excessive pride; an exaggerated arrogance and self confidence; a belief that the normal rules of the game do not apply and therein lay his tragic flaw.

For eight years Spitzer labored as attorney general of New York State. He made his name prosecuting high crimes of misdemeanors and misdeeds. He became known as the Sheriff of Wall Street. He had brought down the power brokers on Wall Street and cracked several prostitution rings. In 2004, after arresting 16 persons involved in running a prostitution ring, he declaimed: “This was a sophisticated operation with a multilayered management structure. It was however, nothing more than a prostitution ring.”

As fate would have it, the same kinds of cases that Spitzer prosecuted and which made him famous were the same kind of case in which he became entrapped. He had made a name for himself by enforcing the law; now he was faced with the prospect of having the same law used against him.

But if this were a tragedy, the question remains: what make men of power indulge in these tawdry affairs knowing full well, as a West Indian saying goes, “everyday the bucket go ‘a well; one day the bottom ah fall out.” Bill Clinton; Jimmy Swaggert; Jim Baker; Larry Craig; Marion Barry; James Greevey; Ted Haggard (to name a few such men) all seemed to caught up in a tableau viviant strutting their notions of power and invincibility on a secret stage only to be caught eventually.

Such notions of invincibility leads one to ask, What makes these men feel they are not subjected to laws by which most of us feel we must abide. Why do they feel they can preach one thing in public and do a different thing in their private lives?

And then there is the question of the wives of these men who, in the name of “for better or for worse,” suffer public humiliation in the name of these men. How could a man who says that he loves his wife and family lead them to such depths of degradation? On Monday last, at his news conference, there stood a crest-fallen Ms. Spitzer. No words seemed to capture her pain-she said none-no gesture seemed to hide her anguish. In her pain, she seemed to asking, “Wasn’t I enough for you? Did you have to go a young brunette to satisfy your desire?”

Governor Spitzer had gone to many prostitutes before. A few of them knew he was the governor of New York. Apparently, he was a difficult client with extraordinary needs that his wife could not fulfill. He asked the prostitutes “to do things you might not think were safe.” He was never satisfied totally with their services and therefore needed a lagniappe. The young brunette owed the governor about $400 or $500 for previous services not rendered although he paid $4,300 (US) an hour for her services. It was hard to tell what one bought with $4,300.

Once the news broke, Governor Spitzer’s political demise came with lightening speed. On February 13, the FBI recorded the governor’s conversation with the prostitute. They also recorded the prostitutes report to her booking agent about her encounter with the governor. Within a month the governor was sliced toast. There was no constitutional motion; no appeals to the Privy Council; no shenanigans about political bias and the like. One is not too sure how Basdeo Panday and his cohorts would have made out in this environment.

The United States system of law works which is why Steve Ferguson and Ish Galberansingh are fighting their extradition. In the US, if one transgresses the law, one pays for such transgressions. It’s called accountability and taking responsibility for one’s action. One may choose to do wrong but one knows there are consequences if one is caught. It’s a matter of personal responsibility and an understanding that no one is above the law. It’s the first lesson I learned on that August day in 1964 when I first arrived in the United States. It’s an uncomfortable truth that we in Trinidad and Tobago may learn one day.

I hope that our politicians possess the capacity to learn from the tragedy of Governor Spitzer’s demise.

3 thoughts on “The Sheriff of Wall Street”

  1. I grieve for the wife of another US public figure, this one a Harvard Law School Graduate, and I wrote this for her, on March 12, 2008. Allow me:

    March Madness! Spring Break-up

    To Silda:

    For the stiff upper lip, held grimly
    Until your heart breaks
    For the muscles rigid with shock and pain,
    despair, held up for public scrutiny;
    For the discipline of not kicking him in the backside,
    when he so richly deserves it,
    For facing the camera, denying shame,
    and looking elegant while life’s chaos swirls around in ruins;
    For holding up your side, for the sake of the girls;
    For the face flashed forever on everyone’s screen, as
    the one rejected for the expensive bimbette,
    maybe no older than yur daughters,
    For wondering in despair, “what do I lack”,
    and coming to the realization that
    the lack is in him,an overweening greed for sex,
    and power,the insatiable she-wolf of Dante’s vision,
    For all the other women who have thought they had it all,
    security mostly,
    whose private emptiness was splashed across the pages,
    ripping out peace of mind, forever,
    For all the pieces you will pick up, bravely,
    and try to soldier on, horrified, grieved,
    tightly smiling with lips turned down
    but resolute in being pointed at in public;
    this solitary woman lifts a lone wine glass to you.
    In salute, in camaderie, in compassion.

    Linda E. Edwards

  2. Dr. Cudjoe captures the pain and the humiliation of the spouses of these sexual predators. I am not as willing, however, to heap glory upon the US and its laws as some sort of model to be followed in TnT.

    This US has been notorious in its violation of international law, demonstrating that it has no respect for law, only might. This is the same country that still has laws on the books that are directly derived from slavery. One such example would be the “unlawful flight (accross state lines) to avoid prosecution”—the runaway slave law.

    Even now, the US Supreme Court is daily eroding the protections citizens once had against governmental intrusion into their private lives. If Bush and his crowd could have their way, Americans would have their library cards examined to see what books they were reading, their email read to see who they were corresponding with, etc. There would be warrantless searches and street stops by police. There would be lengthy detentions without production of reasons as to why.

    We have a tendency to applaud this type of fall from power as if it sends the message that “no one is above the law.” Well, before we rush to bow down to yet another master, let us wait and see whether Spitzer would be prosecuted and the type of sentence he would receive for his crimes. Would he, like so many of the rich and famous of the US, be leniently dealt with by the system of criminal justice on the basis that “he suffered enough” because of his eviction from the governor’s mansion. There are clear double standards in the administration of justice when it comes to rich and poor, the powerful and the penniless, black and white.

    In civil law in the US, it is a well known fact that in an injury case juries tend to award more to whites than blacks for the loss of limbs. Thus, a white hand or leg is deemed to be worth more here in America. In criminal cases, given the virtually identical set of facts and circumstances, a black defendant is more likely to be convicted and to receive a harsher sentence if convicted than a white defendant who committed the same offense.

    We need to start looking inward and stop always looking for some new massa to save us.

  3. News for Phil. They are already reading everyone’s e-mail(US Gov’T). That is how they caught him, and the District Attorney in Harris County,Texas; and any number of adults who had pornographic material on their computers, or ship illegal arms etc.

    Flawed as it is, the US has jailed some rather prominent criminals, Martha Stewart and Leona Helmsley , as well as the two Harris women who murderd lovers and husbands, one, the dentist who used her Benz as a weapon, and one the prep school principal who murderd the diet doctor. By contrast one can say that not a single prominent person, after Dr. Dalip Singh in 1955, ever paid for a crime in Trinidad and Tobago.
    Justice can be bought after a fashion, in the US. The billioniare who murdered his neighbor and tossed him into Galveston bay, Durst, walked free, but at least he was first arrested and tried. Look how long the criminals involved in the airport scandal are meandering around the courts in TnT. Their American counterparts, based on the evidence the TNT goernment collected, are already doing time.
    No doubt, Mr. Spitzer will be made an example of, because he made many powerful enemies on Wall Street, but he cleaned up corruption there.

    Now the interstate law also applies to kidnapping children. This is good. Laws in the US can and are reformed if enough people write to the congresspeople about it.(There are probably vestiges of slave laws on the books of every former slave-owning country. Vagabond and no fixed place of abode laws are part of that system.) We in TnT seem to think that the laws on our books are Mosaic in nature, and having been brought down from Mount Sianai, are forever carved into the rock of our judicial system. Again, I hope the New AG would have time enough to cleanse those Augean Stables. Both systems will benefit from further reform. Intelligent people, in building a system, try to choose the best of whatever works. I think we are intelligent enough to do that.

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