Saying Republicans were "likely" to maintain control of the state Senate, gubernatorial frontrunner Eliot Spitzer told The Jewish Week that Democrats won’t have absolute power in New York if they capture all the statewide offices next week, as polls predict.
Asked why those voters who believe in the strength of a two-party system should support him and his running mates in the face of a potential Democratic landslide, Spitzer said there would be a "significant role for Republican leadership" in state politics.
"[Senate Majority Leader] Joe Bruno is clearly going to still be a significant player in Albany," Spitzer, the state attorney general, told Jewish Week writers and editors in a conference call last week.
In a glimpse at his style of governing, however, Spitzer, who has promised to bring political reforms to the state capital from day one, took a shot at those who have risen to power through the legislative system as people who negotiate "every aspect to the point where clarity is lost and principle is lost" and said he hoped to be able to "speak from certain core principles." He seemed to express preference for the style of a CEO with "a capacity to make a decision without being questioned."
Spitzer, who if elected would be the stateís second Jewish governor and the first in some 60 years, said he had experienced some anti-Semitism during his travels as a young man, although he had spent most of his life in environments where Jews were a majority. He expressed concern about growing global anti-Semitism that threatened the security of Israel and Jews around the world. Below are excerpts from the interview:
Jewish Week: What would you say to swing voters who may end up voting Republican this year because they see Democratic victories as likely and they prefer a two-party government?
Eliot Spitzer: I’ve always believed you vote for the individual candidate. I don’t buy into the notion of structural politics. In one of the debates I was asked if I ever voted for a Republican and I said sure I have. Because I vote based on the individual. That is the advice I give. Don’t vote based on party label at all. There have been some very good Republicans who have candidates on the East Side. I voted for [former Senator] Roy Goodman a couple of times.
Why shouldn’t voters be concerned about one party wielding too much power?
There is still going to be very strong Republican presence in state government. Joe Bruno is clearly a significant player in Albany. I don’t want to concede that we won’t take a majority in the Senate, nor do I want to be polyannish and say we’re going to, but it certainly it seems most likely he’ll be the majority leader of the state senate and therefore there will be a bipartisan role … there will be a significant role for Republican leadership in significant issues related to state government.
You have been an attorney and prosecutor throughout your career but have never really been at the heart of government. Can you do it?
Without suggesting analogies, I think some of our great leaders have not come out of the legislative process. For example Mike Bloomberg has been superb mayor and he didn’t come out of government, he came out of the private sector where he was the CEO and he ran a company with a certain capacity to make a decision without being questioned. I think it may be healthy and good that I have not been immersed in the process of negotiating every aspect down to the point where clarity is lost and principle is lost. I’ve had a position where I’ve needed to speak from certain core principles and enforce certain laws with a certain rigidity and I hope to bring that spirit back to Albany.
How would your Jewish backgound affect the way you do the job?
I would say I would bring a notion of what has led to the economic and political success of New York and why we have always been, more than any other state, a center of hope and immigrant dreams. We have created a dynamic of opportunity while simultaneously expecting people to succeed based on their own skills and merit I look to my own parents as personifying that.
Has anti-Semitism ever affected you personally?
There have been offhanded comments by people not terribly learned or wise. Through college, when I was traveling but not on my college campus or jobs had on Capitol Hill, but elsewhere, other jobs, some in the northeast, some in the south. These were not incidents that were transformative, they were incidents where I just I looked at it as a sign of the real ignorance of the people who made comments and acted the way they did.
I think there is a deeper anti-Semitism in the world right now that is enormously troubling … we have to be strong in our identity our protection of Israel and the principles we believe and to educate … There is a virulent effort in parts of word where their mission is to destroy the state of Israel and to view Jews as being at the center of much that occurs that is wrong with the world.
Have you ever suffered from discrimination?
I have not encountered [discrimination], but frankly for most of my professional life and educational life been in I’ve been in circumstances where being Jewish did not put me either in a minority or even in a small minority.
Is the state’s anti-bias crime law working?
We helped develop a manual to help the DAs understand what the elements are and how you put the cases together. I don’t know what the numbers are in terms of prosecutions. My sense is the law is a good law that has worked well. It has been invoked in several high profile incidents and Iím not aware of any major effort now to amend it. You have been involved in cases upholding religious freedom for employees. On the flip side, there are cases where religious organizations seek protection for what some would consider discriminatory policies like limits on insurance coverage and hiring practices. Should this be allowed?
I have spoken out in favor of RFRA and some of the analagous statutes to say there is a balance here, a sense that the First Amendment not only ensures freedom to practice, the other side is that it also has to permit and create an area of latitude for organizations that want to pursue certain principles.
The state has an office in Israel to promote commercial ties. Has it paid off?
I have no idea what the magnitude is of the effort to generate trade or generate investment. Thatís something, if I’m lucky enough to win, I will certainly pursue. I have been to Israel three times in the last few years (well, twice) the first time was when I was 13, so that goes a while back. Finally, the state health authorities have declined to take action in the case of a mohel suspected of spreading herpes through the controversial circumcision procedure metzetze bí’eh. The New York City health commissioner, Thomas Frieden, continues to discourage the procedure. Would your administration get involved?
I’m aware that the issue arose. My sense is the city was dealing with it so the state doesn’t need to get involved. I’m not aware of it beyond that.
Does the state have a role to play here?
It all depends on the actual facts and circumstances. Obviously the state health department has an enormous role to play in terms of articulating standards for hospital care and health care and the whole bit. In terms of the particulars of this incident and the concern … I simply don’t know enough to weigh in.