Spitzer Stays -- For Now

 

Embarrassing sexual scandals have tripped up at least seven sitting governors before New York's Eliot Spitzer (D), but only one resigned from office over the impropriety.

The exception was New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey (D), who stunningly announced in August 2004 that he is gay, described an affair with another man - the state's former director of homeland security - and resigned effective that November.

At a news conference with his wife at his side, Spitzer Monday (March 10) apologized to his family and the public over what he described only as "a private matter" but did not resign his office. The New York Times reported that the former New York attorney general, who won the governor's office in a 2006 landslide, was caught in a federal wiretap recording, arranging to meet with a prostitute at a Washington, D.C., hotel.

Political opponents quickly began calling for Spitzer to step down, accusing the well-known crusader against public corruption of hypocrisy. But gubernatorial history shows others caught or accused of having an inappropriate sexual relationship managed to complete their terms - though it sometimes cut short their political careers:

  • West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise (D) finished his term but did not seek re-election in 2004 after an affair with a state employee was revealed in May 2003.
  • Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton (D) finished his second and final term in December 2003 after admitting to an affair with a woman who claimed the governor had performed political favors to keep her nursing home open.
  • Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening (D) finished his second and final term after The Washington Post in 2002 revealed his affair with a woman on his staff. He later left his second wife and married his former employee.
  • Washington Gov. Mike Lowry (D) decided not to seek a second term in 1996 after several women accused him of sexual harassment.
  • Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel (D) had an extramarital affair while in office in the 1970s and married his lover in 1974, the year he was re-elected to a second term. He was forced to resign in 1977 after being convicted of racketeering and mail fraud.
  • Louisiana Gov. Earl Long (D) was elected in 1948 and again in 1956 and carried on a well-known relationship with stripper Blaze Starr during his final term. In 1960, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives but died before taking office.

While an extramarital affair isn't illegal, Spitzer's problems are compounded because prostitution is illegal. It was still unclear whether Spitzer could face legal charges.

But even criminal investigations didn't force the resignation of governors in two recent cases. Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (R) pleaded guilty in August 2005 to misdemeanor charges of accepting free golf outings and dinners from lobbyists without reporting them. Taft was term-limited and finished his second term in 2006. Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) was indicted in 2006 on misdemeanor charges - later dropped - that he subverted the state's merit employment system by firing partisan foes and filling jobs with political allies. Fletcher ran for re-election but was handily defeated by Steve Beshear (D) in 2007.

Counting New Jersey's McGreevey, 11 governors have resigned in the face of scandal, 10 of them under a cloud of criminal investigation or threat of impeachment, according to historical data from the National Governors Association. The others are:

  • Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland (R) stepped down effective in July 2004 in the face of impeachment proceedings and served a year in federal prison for steering contracts to political allies and companies and accepting gifts from contractors, including renovations to a vacation home.
  • Arizona Republican Fife Symington left office in 1997 after being convicted of federal bank and wire fraud charges that later were overturned.
  • Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker (D) resigned in July 1996 after being convicted of two felony charges related to the Whitewater investigation of real-estate deals involving Bill and Hillary Clinton.
  • Tennessee Gov. Ray Blanton (D), embroiled in a pardon-selling scandal, quit with just three days left in office in 1979. He was acquitted of those charges but later convicted of unrelated extortion and conspiracy crimes.
  • Maryland's Mandel resigned in 1977 after being convicted of racketeering and mail fraud. He served 19 months in prison before his conviction was overturned. President Ronald Reagan (R) commuted Mandel's sentence in 1981.
  • Louisiana Gov. Richard Leche (D) resigned in 1939 after a federal mail-fraud conviction.
  • Indiana Gov. Warren McCray (R) was convicted of mail fraud and resigned in 1924.
  • Mississippi Gov. Adelbert Ames (R) resigned after being impeached in 1876 but before the Legislature could convict and remove him.
  • Georgia Gov. Rufus Brown Bullock (R) resigned in 1871 while under investigation for a number of crimes.
  • A second Mississippi governor, Democrat John A. Quitman, resigned in 1851 before his arrest by a federal marshal and after an 1850 indictment for violating the federal Neutrality Act.
 
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