How screwed is Eliot Spitzer? That's probably the most important question after yesterday's release of a report by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo that accuses "Mr. Spitzer's communications director, Darren Dopp, and a top state homeland security official of ordering state police to take extraordinary measures to track the use of air and ground police escorts by the Republican Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno, in an effort to catch him abusing state resources."
The Times has a timeline of events in the controversy and you can read the full report here, but all you pretty much need to know is that this does not look good for a guy who rode into Albany claiming to be the last honest man. The governor is currently claiming to have known nothing about any of this, which would be slightly more credible if he weren't bragging all the time about his attention to detail and if he didn't advertise the fact that he was a self-righteous prick who would roll over his enemies to enact his agenda as some kind of selling point.
What's next? Senate Republicans, predictably, are calling for an investigation, which will likely result in a few resignations among Spitzer aides and more damaging revelations about the governor's management style. What's the political fallout? Hard to tell just yet, but it doesn't look good: The Post (which, probably not incorrectly, claims that its reporting helped hasten the investigation) bites on the Republican talking points by claiming that this is Spitzer's Watergate; even the Times acknowledges that the governor's agenda is seriously imperiled. (Tangential, but also important: The Albany Times Union, which filed the original story about the investigation of Bruno, appears to have been completely in the tank for the administration).
It's important to note that no one has been charged with anything illegal yet—even Bruno, whose dodgy air travel was ruled legal because he was smart enough to spend a couple of minutes talking politics on the days he used state planes to attend fundraisers.
So, really, how screwed is Eliot Spitzer? While the Post quotes nervous unnamed Democrats who think Spitzer may not even seek re-election, that's an incredibly premature judgment. Let's face it: There's only one Republican with a shot at beating the governor statewide, and he just turned Independent a couple of weeks ago.
If we were Spitzer, we'd be more worried about Andrew Cuomo, who has a ton of cash in the bank and who—with this report—has somehow burnished his reputation as an independent politician who will go where the facts take him no matter what damage they do to his party. Looking back now at the endless Spitzer-Cuomo-Clinton tag-team extravaganza during last year's election, during which the three politicians criss-crossed Westchester and Long Island and points north (with the some-time tag-along of Bill Clinton), Cuomo look less like a Democratic party tool and junior of the bunch that he was then and more like the future Governor that he's been desperate to be since 1994.
2010 is a long way away; for all we know (and we're giving even money) Bruno could be indicted on charges springing from the year-long federal investigation of his outside business dealings by then, which would take some of the sting out of the "abuse of power" charges we're sure to hear about over and over again. Perhaps the more appropriate question is: How screwed are we? Whatever you think about Spitzer, his main ambition was to scrape away at the calcification that makes "the most dysfunctional legislature in the nation" an easy-to-use cliché for Albany. Now that Bruno can claim victimhood, you can expect more of the same out of Albany at least until 2008, when the Democrats attempt to recapture the state Senate.
So the only winner here is Andy Cuomo. He wins if he hurts Spitzer—and also wins if Hillary does. As comforting as it is to see Spitzer's arrogant mug forced to apologize for anything, for now we're right back where we were two years ago, with three men in a room cutting deals that do nothing for the health of the state.