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Spoiling for a Fight: The Rise of Eliot Spitzer

Spoiling for a Fight: The Rise of Eliot Spitzer

Author:Brooke A. Masters
Release Date:2006
Publisher:Times Books

By Ben Yaster | Posted 10/4/2006

Barring some otherworldly turn of events, Eliot Spitzer, the attorney general of New York, will win the stateís election for governor next month. Although Spitzer is practically a shoo-in, Spoiling for a Fight, Brooke A. Mastersí retrospective on Spitzerís attorney general career, provides a comprehensive and compelling narrative for why he deserves New Yorkís governorship.

If not for Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eliot Spitzer would be the nationís most famous state politician, a man whose very name simultaneously sends shivers of excitement through the bodies of the liberal faithful and spasms in the backs of those who prefer smaller government and larger corporate profits. And he merits the attention he receives. In his eight years as New Yorkís chief prosecutor, Spitzer has unleashed his considerable legal power on the corporate world, not with the intent of punishing individual offenders, but rather with the purpose of forcing entire industries to change their structures and business practices. Spitzerís use of the attorney generalís office is the most impressive exercise of state prosecutorial muscle since the tobacco suits of the 1990s. Respect is due.

Washington Post reporter Masters covered Spitzer for the paper and here provides a fluid account of his rise to prominence. Her prose is economical, her explication is clear--she even makes the minutia of corporate law almost comprehensible. Spoiling offers little new, however; readers of the dailyís business section will already be aware of Spitzerís complaints against Wall Street, and will most likely be familiar with his blunt phrasing and blistering press conferences. Nonetheless, Spoiling for a Fight is a good Spitzer refresher and provides insight on the kind of governor he may be.

A tireless worker, Spitzer is the intellectual laborer who sweated through Harvard Law School and the Manhattan district attorney's office. All of the painstaking hours, however, have rendered him obstinate, if not a complete, bully. A headstrong demeanor is forgivable in the attorney generalís office--in fact, the position may call for it: as a guardian of New Yorkersí civil and legal rights, Spitzer is at his best when attacking with vociferous abandon. It would be shocking, however, if he managed to govern New York without taming his competitive streak.

A successful executive must make compromises, both with the other political party and with the other branches of government. As attorney general, Spitzer was more of a ball breaker than a deal maker. Corporate firms in fear of sinking stock prices accepted his demands. It remains to be seen whether Republicans and the New York State Assembly will buckle so easily.

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