The Eliot Spitzer Story, or…..Where Eliot Could Have Been?                                              

This is a story about Eliot Spitzer.  It is a true story that relates to the incidents we are all aware of that brought Eliot down from the heights he had achieved as the elected Governor of NY State.  However, this part of the story has never been told before. I know that, because aside from Eliot himself (who in all likelihood has forgotten all about it) and a staff member whose name shall go unmentioned, but whose title was (honest) Director of Executive Chamber Operations (how ironic), I am the only other living being who knows the full story of what occurred, and why I believe, that Eliot’s fall was so sudden and so hard.

I have thought hard about whether I should reveal this story, and how to do so. In the immediate aftermath it just felt like piling on. So for these past years I’ve just kept it to myself, even though I felt that Eliot and his family had enough to survive through. without this added on. I also knew (see the title of this book) that if I did reveal it for the wrong reasons, such as out of my personal pique, or to make myself look clever in some way, that it would most likely do me more harm than good.

However, now seems to be the time. It is years later and it is directly in the context of this book. Moreover, it constitutes an important object lesson about the book’s primary purpose, namely gaining insight toward understanding “How Life Really Works!” With one exception, it is illustrated by stories about people I have known. My hope is that this story helps drive home an important idea about the power of even our most subtle thoughts, words and actions to shape the life that we subsequently experience..

How often have you heard someone  say, “Well, I only thought the thought, I didn’t do the thing, No harm, no foul.” Perhaps you’ve said the same. Ummm…no…not so fast. The fact is, that every thought, word and action is a seed we plant in our garden of life that will, at some point, come up to greet us. In fact, the remedy for misery taught by  great teachers and philosophers throughout history is to cultivate the discipline and consciousness to carefully “select” the seeds we allow to come out of us.

Eliot Spitzer and wife Silda with Rob Davis at Hedge Funds Care 2005
Eliot Spitzer with Doris Schwartz who was the Executive Director of HFC at the time and Rob Davis and Joel Press at Hedge Funds Care 2005

Now back to Eliot. Without going into all the details of how it came about, suffice it to say there was a period of time during his NY Attorney General days, when I was on a somewhat friendly basis with Eliot, and his wife Silda. It goes back to 2005, when as the Founder & Chairman of Hedge Funds Care, I invited Eliot to be the keynote Speaker at our annual gala benefit, held in February at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square.    

At the time it was a very controversial choice, because as Attorney General, Eliot had taken on certain Wall Street business practices. He’d become known as the “Sheriff of Wall Street” by uncovering conflicts of interest that resulted in large fines and changes in those practices. But I had seen him in action and knew what a great speaker he was, and when he went to the podium he caught most everyone by surprise. His speech was charming, gracious and funny. As the father of three girls, he said how moved he was by the charity’s mission of preventing child abuse and providing treatment to those who have been victimized. He talked about the things he had done as AG to protect children and bring perpetrators to justice. Within moments he had the audience of 1,000 plus people applauding his comments. When he ended he was greeted by a standing ovation and I received many compliments for having had the audacity and courage to invite him.

Shortly after the benefit Eliot wrote me the following letter:

“Dear Rob,

Needless to say, it was my pleasure to have the opportunity to participate in the “Open Your Heart To The Children Benefit.” I am delighted that it was such a success.

I look forward to seeing you again in the near future. Warmest regards.

Sincerely,

Eliot

The following year, with much support from Wall Street, Eliot was elected as Governor. During that interval we stayed in touch. I attended a couple of his political fundraisers. We had breakfast twice and I attended a couple of events for Silda’s charity, “Children For Children”. When he was elected Governor we had a brief conversation and exchanged a few phone messages. That was it until the summer of 2007.

On a scorching July evening, I attended another charity event I’d been invited to at Chelsea Pier. it was not until I arrived that I learned that Eliot was the keynote speaker. I was a bit late arriving and within moments he was at the podium delivering his comments. I can’t say what it was he discussed that evening but I do recall vividly what happened after.

I was standing watching Eliot when I felt a hand on my arm. It was Silda. She had spotted me and was saying hi. She pulled me off to the side near the steps where Eliot would come down from the podium when he finished and we chatted briefly. When he was done and spotted us, he waved as he made his way through all the well wishers. It was in that moment that I had an inspiration.

When he reached us he gave me a hug and right away asked, “How’s that Hedge Funds Care doing?” 

“Great,” I said, “And funny you should ask! Eliot, now you’re the Governor and next year will be our tenth Anniversary. Would you come back and be with us again?” Then I looked right at Silda shaking my head up and down to get her agreement, and said, “And this time bring Silda and the girls?”.

Silda laughed and said, “That’s right Eliot! Last time you went without us. It would be good for the girls to be there with us and see their Dad working for such a good cause.

Eliot laughed to and asked for the date. February 13th I told him. “Should be ok”, he said.” He handed me a card and wrote his direct office number and the name of his scheduling assistant on it.”Tell him we had this conversation and I said to block that date off. I may forget to tell him myself, but when he checks with me I’ll remember and make sure it happens.”

“Great!” I responded, happy to have run into Eliot and Silda, and glad to have the issue of who’d be the keynote speaker at our next benefit all settled so early in the process. I looked forward to reporting back to our Hedge Funds Care Board of Directors that our next speaker would be the Governor of New York State. It was all so light-hearted and pleasant that I never could have expected what happened next.

The “Committee of Hearts” is the volunteer group that comes together each year to sell sponsorships to our big annual shindig called “The Open Your Heart To The Children Benefit”, They were working away on filling seats and bragging that we’d have Eliot there to give his State of the State and latest zingers about Wall Street, when I received the note. It was dated January 23, 2008, and as I mentioned at the start, came from a person titled Director Executive Chamber operations. The note said:

Dear Mr. Davis,

Governor Spitzer has asked me to thank you for inviting him to attend the 10th Annual Hedge Funds Care benefit. He is honored by your request that he be part of this special event, so needless to say, he is disappointed that his schedule prevents him from accepting. We have no doubt, however, that it will be a great success.

Once again, thanks you for your kind invitation. Your thoughtfulness is greatly appreciated.

Warmest regards,

Sincerely,

That was not a nice note to receive. It was barely 3 weeks before the event and Eliot was cancelling something he had agreed to six months before. Plus we had made a big deal out of the fact that he was going to be there. But what could be done? We needed to make sure that the morale of the troops remained high, since no matter how hard we tried to get commitments well before the event, most of the actual pledges always came in during the last two or three weeks. This year, still in the midst of the worst financial crisis in our lifetime, and with many of our important supporters on the ropes, we could have used Eliot’s support.

So it wasn’t really a good time for this head fake from Eliot. But then, what was my responsibility in this? Maybe it was that I’d been complacent and had over-estimated my “friendship” with Eliot and was now paying the price for that. I had certainly been proud (Maybe overly so) of the fact that I’d been able to line up, “my good friend the Governor”. (Hey check me out. Aren’t I important?)

To be truthful, when I received the note, I was at least as disappointed that it did not come from Eliot himself, as the fact that he wasn’t coming. Wow, I thought at the time. he doesn’t give me a call, or even write the note himself! I guess that shows where I rank on his totem pole! Of course, that was my private lament. Publicly, the important work of making sure the event was successful quickly took precedence and nose went to the grindstone. Thankfully by this time in the life of the organization, Hedge Funds Care had strong leadership beyond me and many highly committed individuals who threw themselves into the fray. Somehow, we held it together and came out ok.

I can’t say the same for Eliot.

On March 10, 2008 it was revealed in the New York Times that Eliot had been caught through wire taps, arranging to spend the night of February 13th with a high-priced prostitute at a Washington, DC, hotel, and further, that because he had paid for her to travel across state lines, the charges could be very serious. The investigation also showed that far from being a one-time event, Eliot had been hiring such services for years.

We have all heard so many stories of “falls from grace” over past years that to some degree we’ve become numb to the shock. Even so, Eliot’s was something! A guy, who as the top cop in NYC had pursued and prosecuted crimes of all sorts, INCLUDING prostitution!!!.

For one thing, how could he have put himself into such a position? How many times did we say or hear the words, “What was he thinking?” Then consider what must it have felt like to learn that he’d been nailed with the same investigative techniques that he had used so many times himself to get the “bad actors.”

So one day Governor of New York State, and the next day the object of scorn and ridicule. He was forced to resign or face criminal charges. It was as stunning as they come. And what I knew, that was completely unknown by anyone else at the time, was that Eliot had made a choice, a very big one!  His choice on how to spend the evening of February 13, 2008 was:

  1. Stay at home in New York City; Take his wife and three daughters to the Hedge funds Care “Open Your Heart To The Children Benefit,” with the mission of funding programs dedicated to saving children from the trauma of abuse; Give the Keynote address with his family looking on, to an audience of people all gathered for that noble purpose; Then take his family home, tuck his daughters in, and exchange hugs and kisses good-night.

B. Arrange a surreptitious liaison with a professional hooker in the nation’s capital under    the guise of attending a ‘crucial’ meeting; Initiate machinations to hide the transfer of funds to pay her fee; Engage in the very same deception that he pursued and prosecuted as a member of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the NY State Attorney General; Leave his wife and three daughters at home.

Let’s see. Which choice would have been the best one for Eliot and those who depended on him? For it was on that very evening, that Eliot had said he would carve out to take his wife and family to the Hedge Funds Care Benefit, that he chose instead to meet Ashley Dupre, otherwise known as Kristen.  How else would it have gone for Eliot if he had joined us at the benefit as planned? One can only wonder.

Yet wow!!! How that choice impacted Eliot’s life! It’s true that there’s so much we don’t know about Eliot. But his story is a gross example of how all the big and small choices we make, do determine the quality of our life’s experiences. My feeling is that Eliot’s fall was at least some degree, worse than it would otherwise have been, simply due to the stark difference of the choice he made.