ALBANY — Eliot Spitzer is not known as shy or diplomatic.
He reportedly likened himself to a steamroller in a private phone call with Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, and in 2010 called Andrew Cuomo, then Spitzer’s successor as attorney general and now the governor, “the dirtiest, nastiest political player out there.”
But appearing in the capital city for the first time since a prostitution scandal forced him from office in 2008, Spitzer was oddly diplomatic when he addressed state issues and the gubernatorial tenure of Cuomo, a fellow Democrat.
“I don’t think it’s my place to grade people,” he said.
“I have disagreed with the governor in certain policy arenas, that has been clear over time, but I always try to do it respectfully.”
Spitzer, now a cable talk show host, spoke for just over an hour Sunday afternoon with WAMC President Alan Chartock during a fundraising lecture for the local public radio outlet at its Linda Norris Auditorium. Spitzer focused his remarks on national issues even as Chartock and the roughly 200 audience members baited him with state-level questions, including several about Cuomo.
Spitzer said Cuomo deserved praise for pushing to legalize same-sex marriage in 2011, but found Cuomo’s posture on legislative redistricting — where Cuomo stood by as state lawmakers again drew the boundaries of their districts, agreeing on reforms to the process that won’t have any effect for a decade — to be “troubling.” Spitzer declined to elaborate.
“We don’t comment on anything Spitzer says,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi.
Spitzer said he was “skeptical” that natural gas hydrofracking, currently being studied by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation and touted as an economic development strategy for rural upstate communities, could be done safely. He said the state should raise its minimum wage, and joked that if it is linked to an increase in lawmaker pay, “I suggest that they be commensurate in size.”
Spitzer and Cuomo were ticketmates in 2006, but crossed paths in office. Cuomo authored a 2007 report on the Spitzer administration’s release of travel records that suggested then-Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno used state aircraft for campaign events. Cuomo’s report found nothing unlawful about Bruno’s activities, but said top Spitzer aides improperly meddled with the State Police to produce the records.
Looking nationally, Spitzer predicted Barack Obama would be re-elected next month with “comfortable” victories in swing states Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania. He was asked about Cuomo’s prospects as a national candidate in 2016, and answered by encouraging Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a former New York senator, to run.
I think Hillary should run,” Spitzer said to applause. “And if she does I honestly can’t imagine there would be any primary.”
And Spitzer hardly ruled out another run for public office.
“The appeal of public office is very real for anyone who’s ever been there; you like to think you can contribute,” he said. “Is it something I think about when I wake up in the morning? No.”