Service of Asking the Right Questions II: It’s not about forgiveness for Anthony Wiener and Eliot Spitzer

July 10th, 2013

Categories: Politics, Questions

The media is asking the public if it can forgive Anthony Wiener and Eliot Spitzer who are running for NYC mayor and comptroller respectively. Both had been caught in kinky activity, the former on social media; the latter in a prostitution scandal.

Forgiveness is neither the point nor the appropriate question—it’s a distraction. To start, pardon for these actions is not the public’s business or domain—it’s for their families to stomach.

What is the voter’s affair? The candidates’ judgment, behavior and approach to their prior work. As state Attorney General, which he was before being elected Governor, Spitzer landed unsympathetically and severely on perpetrators. His mean approach to the law was hardly forgiving—what he now wants from the public–especially against those in the prostitution business of which he was a beneficiary. This made him the poster child for the Bible quote: “Let He Who Is Without Sin Cast the First Stone.” I’m for strict adherence to the law; hypocrisy not so much.

So the question is not about forgiveness but about trust, transformation and whether overly ferocious politicians can change.

In today’s New York Post, columnist Michael Goodwin writes in “Sex pols’ sorry story”: “The issue is not how you spent your time out of office. The question is, how have you changed? How do we know you are not the same person who betrayed the public?”

Later in the column Goodwin continues: “Their final acts did not occur in a vacuum. For Spitzer and Weiner, their undoing was the culmination of years of reckless arrogance. Spitzer was so out of control that I predicted, after only eight months as governor, he would not finish his term. Six months later, he was gone.”

Moments after I heard a radio interview with Goodwin, a newscast on the same station ran the voice of a potential voter who had forgiven Spitzer for his sexual pursuits. The quote was illustrating the news that Spitzer was having trouble accumulating 3,750 signatures of registered Democrats that he needs to be on the ballot. His deadline is tomorrow night.

I discussed the topic with Martha Takayama who inspired the post in the first place. She said, “You have to pound on the idea that their morals are beside the point and that inconsistent application of crime and punishment rules are the issue.” The Boston-based gallery owner of Tepper Takayama Fine Arts, specializing in contemporary photography, is also passionate about politics. A frequent visitor to Manhattan where she has family, she pays more attention to what’s going on here than most locals. Takayama continued: “Spitzer’s case indicates a flaw–not a tragic one because he is not great. He thinks that he is above the law. That rules are not for him! He was a grown man when he manifested that behavior.” 

The media should help a public, with memory the size of a punctuation mark, by asking the right questions and covering the work-history of the candidates. Goodwin was on the right track. While I don’t always agree with this columnist, we see eye-to-eye on this subject. 

When you watch interviews with candidates, celebrities or others are there questions you’d wish the reporter or on-air host would ask or do they pretty much cover what you want to know? Is forgiveness what it’s about with candidates reemerging after a fall or is it more about belief in the potential for adults to change?

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6 Responses to “Service of Asking the Right Questions II: It’s not about forgiveness for Anthony Wiener and Eliot Spitzer”

  1. Hester Craddock Said:

    This reminds me of the ongoing debate over the peccadillos of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie, candidates for the presidency in 1940. At the time, many insiders in both Washington and New York were aware that Roosevelt was a womanizer who had had a long standing affair with Lucy Mercer Rutherford and that Willkie’s mistress was Irita Van Doren of the New York Herald Tribune. However, the media, in the national interest, chose not to publish what it knew. As a consequence, with a world war already underway, a nervous electorate was reassured that, whichever man won, the country’s next president would be a strong, capable and honorable man.

    Twenty years later, the electorate chose another capable man, John F. Kennedy, surely the greatest womanizer in the history of the presidency, to lead it. Many had heard rumors, but the country’s moral standards had become far more relaxed by then.

    What do these three men have in common with Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Wiener? Obviously questionable moral values, but not much else. Roosevelt, Willkie and Kennedy were all thoughtful and canny men capable of listening and leading and of persuading others. Spitzer and Weiner are self-serving opportunists. The former achieved office largely as a consequence of his family’s wealth and influence, and the latter, through smear tactics. Neither has shown one iota of leadership or integrity, whereas Roosevelt, Willkie and Kennedy were all, as politicians go, relatively honest men. More importantly, as leaders, there is ample evidence that they put the country’s best interests ahead of their own, whereas it is doubtful Spitzer and Weiner would ever do that.

    For this voter, the issue is not “change” or “forgiveness.” It is suitability to serve in any public office. Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Wiener do not qualify.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I didn’t go into whether or not either Spitzer or Wiener were up to the job as I was focusing on a drumbeat I was hearing from the media that seemed to be taking the temperature of the public’s forgiveness exclusively.

    Yet what you address is essential. I assume that intellectually, Spitzer may be up to the task of comptroller, but so are hundreds of others, most of whom don’t share his flaws which Martha Takayama succinctly noted—he thought he was above the law. Do we want this approach to control the city’s coffers?

    As for Weiner, you’d have to assess how good he was as a state congressman and whether he has the chops to be Mayor. We know more about his social media tactics than his accomplishments at this point which says it all. Perhaps he should take a job in marketing.

    What’s scary is how well both are doing in the polls. This morning I heard that Spitzer was nine points ahead of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer who has been in the running for a while. If you Google “Who is running for NYC comptroller?” all you see is Eliot Spitzer.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Forgiveness? What have either Spitzer or Wiener done to me or others outside of their respective families? In short there’s nothing to forgive. Prostitution is basically a business, which if legitimized, would bring much needed revenue to flagging communities. Twittering ones sexual wares is infantile, and has nothing to do with former Representative Wiener’s ability to properly serve his constituents.

    From more recent reports, playing the forgiveness card is not paying off for the press. Wiener is reportedly gaining in the polls, and Spitzer is making headlines. I hope both win for no better reason than, imagined moral turpitude aside, they are a thousand times more capable that the pathetic souls who write the stories. Questions, anyone?

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    If the media, like you, want Spitzer and Wiener to win, then pounding the forgiveness angle is serving you all which, I fear, doesn’t speak well of voters. I didn’t care for the way Spitzer conducted himself as Attorney General and can’t imagine that he’ll play any better with others as city comptroller.

    Wiener was one of 435 in the US Congress. I admit to not being able to tell you anything about his impact which isn’t a good sign for someone who wants to run a complicated, high profile city.

    The fact that voters select people on the basis of celebrity, whether good or bad, makes me feel despondent.

  5. Jacqueline Herships AKA The Little Old Lady Said:

    I remain confused about Weiner.

    Much to my surprise, I heard him interviewed on WNYC. If I thought about it at all, which I really didn’t, I’d have thought he would be hiding his head, but no – he was speaking very good sense about health care management. I was mentally applauding.

    People have so many sides to them. Personally, he makes me feel icky, is the word I want. But probably Roosevelt and Kennedy would have had much more mud in their faces if we’d had the kind of yellow journalistic approach and lascivious press and public voyeurism that we have now. Standards were very different. Privacy was more respected in the past. Class distinctions were honored. If you were upper class you could do no wrong no matter what you did.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your comment about Weiner reminded me of the new business crackerjack for a New England-based marketing agency in beautifully designed digs that knocked a client off it’s pins. I, too was impressed. I was PR counsel and watched the expert speaker bamboozle the client into a very expensive, inappropriate project I knew was doomed. Not only did it crash and burn, this blah blah expert’s company was sloppy and inexpert in execution. The splat conclusion was so pathetic that the client asked me to mop up the mess.

    Weiner isn’t the only smooth-talking politician, dermatologist, marketing person, interior designer, fashion or hair stylist to impress with words. As I asked Lucrezia, in all the years he was in the US Congress, what did he do? Seems to me that if he had been responsible for something, we’d all know a lot about it by now.

    As for days of yore, the upper class in most cases represented the richest among us and more often than not, if you are rich today, [or have access to wealth] you, too are off lo so many hooks and can do no wrong. It’s something about celebrity–Americans seem intoxicated by it.

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