N.Y. Gov. Spitzer Put on Defensive Over Aides’ Political Tactics

By | July 25, 2007

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer made his name as a corruption fighting attorney general who forced reforms on Wall Street and the insurance industry. As governor, he promised to take that campaign to Albany and end the state government’s reputation for political dysfunction.

This week, though, it was Spitzer who was under fire for underhanded tactics.

His successor as state attorney general, fellow Democrat Andrew Cuomo, issued a report Monday saying two of Spitzer’s top aides were involved in a plot to smear the governor’s political nemesis, Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, by releasing records to the media on Bruno’s use of state drivers and state aircraft for trips that included GOP fundraisers.

No one was accused of breaking the law, but the report found that policies designed to protect public officials’ safety were broken for political gain.

Spitzer said he accepted the report but had been unaware of the operation. In response, he suspended one of the aides and reassigned the other.

“I apologize to Sen. Bruno, as I did earlier today,” Spitzer told reporters Monday. “I apologize to the people of the state of New York.”

The report found that longtime Spitzer spokesman Darren Dopp and the state’s assistant deputy secretary for homeland security, William Howard, with the direct assistance of the acting state police superintendent, Preston Felton, conspired to release politically damaging information about Bruno’s use of state transportation.

Dopp and Howard told Felton that records on Bruno’s aircraft use were being sought in response to a reporter’s state Freedom of Information Law request. But no reporter had requested the information, according to Cuomo’s report.

Howard and Dopp did not respond to e-mail messages.

Felton said he didn’t realize he was part of a political scheme.

“I have never, in my 26-year career with the state police, knowingly undertaken any such action and never would,” Felton said in a written statement. “To the extent that circumstances previously not known to me have now given rise to that appearance, I am particularly saddened.”

Cuomo’s report said the records were created “without considering any potential for security concerns” for Bruno, the 78-year-old head of the state Republican Party, who has said he required state police transportation because of death threats in the past.

Bruno’s use of the state aircraft was appropriate under state policy, the attorney general’s report said, though it added that the policy was “overly permissive and porous and allows for an abuse of taxpayer funds.”

Spitzer’s embarrassment could be good news for Cuomo, a former and perhaps future candidate for governor whose father held the office for three terms.

“Certainly for Spitzer it’s politically damaging,” said Lee Miringoff of the Marist College poll. “When you come in on the winds of reform, anything that feels like old school politics works against you.

“If he wanted to be cleaning out Albany, the last thing he wanted to do was to be starting with his own senior staff,” Miringoff said.

Bruno said his office would “thoroughly review the report’s disturbing conclusions” before commenting further.


Associated Press writer Sara Kugler in New York City contributed to this report.

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