Eliot Spitzer: 'I Would Like to Move On'
Spitzer served only 14 months in Albany when revelations that he had spent tens of thousands of dollars on call girls led him to resign, though he was never charged with a crime. "I made a huge, unjustifiable, inexcusable error of judgment," Spitzer now tells PEOPLE, offering an earnest, if practiced, admission. "It was a violation of my most fundamental obligation to my family-that's the most important piece of it-for which I've tried to both apologize and atone. Now I would like to move on and participate in some productive way."
Toward that end he has cooperated with a documentary, Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, out next month. And starting Oct. 4 the 51-year-old former Democratic governor will host a weeknight analysis show on CNN, called Parker Spitzer, with conservative columnist Kathleen Parker. "It's different being on this side," says Spitzer in his freshly painted office, a CNN publicist taking notes nearby. "Different, but still exciting."
The man who, as New York's attorney general, was known as the Sheriff of Wall Street for tackling corruption, is itching to get back into the conversation. Since leaving office in March 2008, he has worked at his father's real estate firm, taught at City College of New York and made occasional appearances to discuss the financial crisis as some of the banking giants he prosecuted imploded and received costly government bailouts. "To watch from the sidelines is not easy," he says.
But when CNN's then-president Jonathan Klein called to discuss the job, even Spitzer himself admits, "I was kind of surprised. I said, 'Are you sure?'" Told of Klein's choice for her cohost, Kathleen Parker recalls, "There was a lull and I said, 'Bold.'"
But Parker, 59, also a hosting novice, was open to the pairing, and in late May met Spitzer for coffee. As she tells it, "I said, 'Let's talk about the elephant in the room: How are you and Silda?' He said, 'We've been through a rough time, and we're working hard.' I could see he is a devoted family man," says Parker. "That may sound ironic under the circumstances, but he is."
Eliot Spitzer and Silda Wall started dating in 1984 at Harvard Law School. "From the moment they met, they cared deeply about each other and still do," says Harvard pal Cliff Sloan, who was among the close friends in touch with the couple in the wake of the prostitution scandal. "I admire both of them for their commitment to each other and their family."
Since exiting her husband's final gubernatorial press conference in March 2008, Wall Spitzer, 52, has said little, letting her actions speak for her. She started working again, at a hedge fund (she had given up a law career after the birth of their third daughter in 1994); focused on Children for Children (her nonprofit to promote volunteerism); and by May 2008 appeared behind a podium of her own at a fund-raiser, where she lightly joked to the crowd, "I hope that your spring has been less eventful."
But if Silda appears preternaturally unflappable, it is not as if she and Eliot are curling up nights to watch The Good Wife, a TV drama that borrows liberally from the Spitzer story. "No, no, we don't watch it," says Eliot. "It's still a very raw nerve."
The couple went into therapy together, according to published reports. These days Spitzer approaches the topic of their relationship with discretion but remains characteristically expansive talking about his wife's grace. She is "more forgiving than anybody should have been," he says. "It's incumbent now on me to appreciate the deepness of her love for me and for the whole family. That she's willing to do this-what more can you say?"
If Spitzer can find any upside to his abrupt exit from public service, it is the found time for Silda and their daughters, ages 16, 18 and 20. "When I was attorney general and governor, that consumed my life," he says. "That was not good for the kids." The family spent time this summer in their upstate home with its horses, cows and organic fruit orchard: "We make jam for friends."
Behind that picture of contentment, however, Spitzer still smarts at having squandered the governor's seat-and at having a name forever synonymous with "call girl scandal." In a recent public spat with New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo, Spitzer called Cuomo, who is running for Spitzer's old office, "one of the nastiest, dirtiest political players out there," to which Cuomo retorted, "Well, that's saying something from Eliot Spitzer, huh? I think Eliot Spitzer's record of performance and honor speaks for itself, and so does mine."
Spitzer understands the problem. "It's very hard sometimes when you wake up and think, 'Wait a minute, I spent a whole life trying to get to a position ... and you finally get to a position where you can do great things and then you throw it away. It's ..." he says, but doesn't finish the thought. So does he still kick himself? "It will never stop. That I don't think will ever stop. Nor should it," says Spitzer, adding later: "This is now part of my life story."
But not the end. Can a man many once saw as presidential material be satisfied with a TV career? Or is another run for office in the future? Says Spitzer: "You never rule things out in life."