Usually when we talk about Eliot Spitzer there are the obligatory “Client 9” prostitute jokes. Yes, yes, it’s terribly embarrassing that a married man frequented prostitutes. Spitzer was most famous for being a prosecutor, and prosecutors who break the law are hypocrites, and we have to point and make the Invasion of the Body Snatchers face and scream.
So I’ll pause to let everybody do that. In the immortal words of Tim Curry in Congo “have your laughing.”
Okay, are we back now? People love to bash this man; Spitzer made few friends in public life. But those of us who were in Biglaw while Spitzer was doing his thing at the New York Attorney General’s Office should hold him close to their hearts, or at least their wallets. Because Spitzer made a lot of lawyers a lot of money. Suing Wall Street might not have been popular with Wall Street, but it was sure as hell popular with lawyers who serviced Wall Street firms.
Bet-the-company litigation, huge fees, tons of associate man-hours just trying to unpack whatever shady, arbitrage/Ponzi/derivative bollocks your client was doing — these are the cases that make it rain in litigation, baby. Most of my brief Biglaw career could be described as applying wet wipes to clients whom Spitzer crapped all over.
And everybody made money.
So the question is… can The Steamroller do it again?
News broke this morning that Eliot Spitzer is looking to get back into politics. He’s throwing his hat into the New York City comptroller’s race. City comptroller is one of those positions that can really affect the daily lives of millions of people, but millions of people don’t vote in the election because people are stupid and treat the right to vote as something that only exists once every four years for an office that has shockingly little impact on the laws of everyday life.
Of course, most politicians who run for City comptroller are only doing it with an eye towards a more impressive public office. Current Comptroller John Liu, the first Asian-American to be elected to citywide office, is running for mayor (he’s not going to win). The guy Liu replaced, William Thompson, ran for mayor and lost to Mike Bloomberg. It’s a stepping stone job.
But it’s also a job with some real regulatory power. The NYC comptroller gets to audit all the other city agencies, which gives the office considerable power over the city’s budget. The comptroller also manages all of the city’s pension funds… which makes Wall Street takes notice.
And it’s probably why Spitzer is interested in the job. From that base of city power, Spitzer could transform the office into a forceful regulator, much as he did the NYAG office. From the New York Times:
Mr. Spitzer, who built a national reputation as a zealous watchdog of Wall Street while attorney general, imagines transforming the comptroller’s office into a robust agency that would not merely monitor and account for city spending, as it does now, but also conduct regular inquiries into the effectiveness of government policies in areas like high school graduation rates.
Such a reading of the office, which would significantly expand its scope, could put Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat, into conflict with the city’s next mayor, much as his tenure as attorney general put him at odds with federal regulators of Wall Street.
“The metaphor is what I did with the attorney general’s office,” he said. “It is ripe for greater and more exciting use of the office’s jurisdiction.”
That should be music to the ears of Biglaw lawyers all across Manhattan. Say what you will about Spitzer, but he’s one of the few politicians who has the money and the will to go toe-to-toe with the big banks. He might be too much of a “bully” to govern, but those skills work well when it comes to regulating people who are all too used to being able to “capture” their regulators.
If Spitzer is back in town, financial services institutions are going to need a lawyer, an expensive one, or maybe one hundred expensive ones.
But that’s a pretty big “if.” Scott Stringer was the odds on favorite to win the comptroller race yesterday, and it’s not clear that Spitzer’s entrance changes the electoral politics. Stringer is liked and respected. Spitzer is disliked and ridiculed. Spitzer has a much higher name recognition than Stringer, but it’s not necessarily a positive one. Still, since so few people vote for comptroller anyway, a few thousand “hey, I know that guy” votes while people are pulling the lever for mayor could swing the thing.
So we’ll see. But know this, Eliot Spitzer is Santa Claus for Biglaw litigation partners. He puts wings on houses and cars in the garage.
Spitzer Rejoins Politics, Asking for Forgiveness [New York Times]