March 6, 2006

The Sun Speaks With Attorney General Spitzer

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The Sun spoke with New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer when he was at Cornell for the Democratic Rural Conference on Friday. Spitzer, who is running for governor, spoke on several topics including gay marriage, securities fraud, good government and the fact that New York Times columnist Tom Friedman writes the same damn thing in every column.

The Sun: As attorney general, you ruled that same-sex marriages, like the ones that were going on in New Paltz, N.Y. weren’t OK under New York State law. As governor, would you be receptive to changing the law to allow same-sex marriages or civil unions?

Eliot Spitzer: Let me tell you what my role has been in that series of cases. The issue is, under New York State law, as of the statute that was passed many decades ago, was same sex marriage authorized? And my office issued an opinion, which has been upheld in several sequential litigations, saying the statute as written did not contemplate same-sex marriage, and you could not fit same-sex marriage into that statute in any clear reading of the statute. The second point I made was that I, at a personal level, believe that same-sex marriage should be constitutional and legal. The third point I made was that whether or not constitutional challenges to the statute would succeed was an issue that could only be resolved by the New York Court of Appeals, which is the highest court. That case will get there a couple months from now. The appellate divisions, frankly, have ruled as I had predicted they would, which is that the statute as written did not contemplate same-sex marriage.

Would I as governor support a statute to make it statutorily acceptable? Yes – which is an issue that is enormously divisive as you could imagine. But I’ve had this very simple principle over the seven years I’ve been in elected office, which is you tell people what you think, and I’d hope people would respect you for telling them what you think, even if they disagree with you, because they’re so sick and tired, rightfully, of elected officials who dissemble and masquerade.

The Sun: Cornell is, as you know, partially private and partially public. On March 14, Interim President Hunter Rawlings III is going to Albany to lobby for more state funding. How do you see Cornell’s land grant mission?

Spitzer: Cornell is one of the great assets of New York State. It is an amazing university, and it has contributed over the years through the Cornell agricultural extension programs, and the SUNY piece of Cornell has done great things for the state economy. What we’ve got to do is capitalize on it more, and we’ve been talking about this with folks here at Cornell and trying to study how we can get the wisdom here, the creativity, the intellectual capital, to translate into more jobs throughout New York State, and this is one of the great assets that we have.

The Sun: Recently the Nassau County Executive, Tom Suozzi, announced that he was going to be your challenger. Previously you were uncontested in the primary race. Any thoughts on that?

Spitzer: No, I always presume that there will be a vigorous campaign, and I look forward to that. That’s what politics is about. The improvising, the opportunity to make an argument to the public about what we’ve done, what we stand for, what I’ve done as attorney general, what I hope [State Sen. David Patterson] and I can do as governor and lieutenant governor, and that is what politics should be about, and that’s why we get into this. And so I look forward to the next eight months. It will be vigorous, it will be fun and it will be challenging.

The Sun: Over the past few days, you’ve been talking a lot about developing businesses in New York State. What’s the crux of those ideas?

Spitzer: The core message is that we need to use our universities better and our intellectual capital. The nature of the economy these days is that, while manufacturing and pure manufacturing based upon access to resources was the rationale for the growth of New York State’s economy, now we are competing based upon intellectual capital. We are competing based upon our creativity and based on our capacity to generate patents and new products, whether it’s a new operating system or an iPod. And therefore what we need to do is invest aggressively in our educational infrastructure – not only K-12, but public and private universities, because that is where the creativity will come from that will permit New York State to once again become a world leader.

The Sun: You mentioned New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s book, The World Is Flat, at the Jewish Law Students reception. Have you read it?

Spitzer: Oh, yeah. Actually, I shouldn’t say this because there’s a tape recorder running, but if you’ve read his columns, you understand the argument he’s making about where world economics are, where we are being outdistanced by more aggressive, more creative nations, China in particular, which he, rightly or wrongly – only history will tell us – sees as the next great frontier.

The Sun: Suozzi is looking to get votes from people who haven’t been too happy with the Wall Street cases and look at you as an “extortionist,” in terms of getting settlements from companies without actually going to trial.

Spitzer: Look, I’ll answer the question, not in the context of anybody else who’s running, but only in the context of a discussion of the cases. The cases have been successful -overwhelmingly successful – because of the facts underlying them. And there are always going to be some revisionists who want to pretend that they paid $1.6 billion because it was easier to pay $1.6 billion than to argue with us. I think when you have the Securities and Exchange Commission, the State Insurance Department, the Department of Justice and the New York State Attorney General’s office all alleging the same facts, that argument becomes not only frivolous but ridiculous. And so I would challenge people who want to discuss or disagree with the cases. I would challenge them to point to a single fact we have alleged in those cases that was not proven. And obviously people are free to disagree. That’s wonderful; it’s what makes politics and our nation unique and the discourse so interesting, but I don’t think there’s a single fact we’ve alleged that has not been proven in those cases, and so I’m thrilled to stand on that record and to go over them.

The Sun: You spoke at the Jewish Law Students reception about young people getting back into politics.

Spitzer: What I was talking about earlier in terms of getting kids and college students and younger adults involved in politics is enormously important, because we really did – in my view – we lost a generation. [We] lost it partially because we let a very different worldview, the worldview of the Republican party and former President Reagan, dominate political discourse, and so a lot of kids were attracted to that worldview. That’s fine, but we need to push back and say, “wait a minute.” We believe that government can make a difference. We believe that there are certain social responsibilities that we all share. We believe in this notion of responsibility that the other side likes to talk about a great deal but does not really embody or live up to, and that’s what our party’s all about.

The Sun: And you mentioned the Kennedys and, sort of, that ethos of public service.

Spitzer: Yeah, I mean, as a counterpoint to the fact that I think from the mid-1970s until now we have had a different worldview. The worldview of the 1960s was very different. Now, as I pointed out, I’d like to think at least even I’m a little too young to really remember it – I was born in 1959 – but certainly, there was a piece of our society that was hugely and wisely and properly affected by what was going on then.

Archived article by David Wittenberg
Sun Staff Writer