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Spitzer Endorses Ratigan In NY-21 Primary, Discusses Other Political Issues

Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer
Tom Wall
Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer

Five years after his comeback bid for New York City Comptroller fell short, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is making a rare return to electoral politics today. The Democrat, who resigned the governorship in 2008 during a prostitution scandal, has endorsed former cable news host Dylan Ratigan in Tuesday’s primary for New York’s 21st Congressional district seat. Five Democrats — Ratigan, Tedra Cobb, Emily Martz, Patrick Nelson and Katie Wilson — are running in hopes of facing second-term Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik in November. Spitzer discussed his decision to weigh in on the race and other political issues with WAMC’s Ian Pickus.

Why did you want to endorse Dylan Ratigan in New York’s 21st congressional primary?

I’ve known Dylan for many years, he has been a persistent and successful fighter for reform, he challenged the economic structures that have done so much harm to this nation years before others even understood what was going on. His voice, both at MSNBC, CNBC, in so many different venues, has been important, powerful, he understands what’s going on, he puts his heart and soul into fighting to change in the ways we need it, and he’ll get it done. If he goes down to Washington, he will be a clarion voice on the capitol for the sorts of change we need.

What effect do you hope the endorsement will have in Tuesday’s vote?

Well look, I don’t know what endorsements do or don’t do for voters, I hope that in some small way I can encourage voters to turn out and vote for Dylan Tuesday because I think it’s critical that we send him to Washington to be a voice down in Washington. I’ve always believed both as a candidate and somebody who has endorsed others that at the end of the day the candidate has to carry the argument, and I’m sure Dylan is doing a great job doing that if you remember the shows on TV. He was passionate, he was powerful, he was articulate. But I hope obviously that my support will help convince people to A) turn out, voting is the first necessary step, and vote for Dylan.

There are other Democrats running. Why do you think he’s the best to unseat Congresswoman Stefanik?

Look, I will not say anything negative about any of the candidates. I applaud them all and I think it’s wonderful that we’ve gotten such a high-quality turnout in so many races across the state. People who are seeking to join the effort to bring genuine reform to this nation. But I just think Dylan is the voice that we need. Dylan understands the core economic issues. He’s been speaking to those issues for decades. He has dissected the banking structures, the types of competition change we need, investments we need. Go back to his shows at MSNBC, they are like a graduate course in what we need to do for our economy to bring fairness, growth, and equity back to this nation.

Both of you obviously worked long and hard on banking reforms. Where do those efforts stand today as you look at Washington run by the GOP in all the branches?

Right. You know, I always said after the crisis in '08 that we would learn the lesson, but the question was: How quickly would we forget? The metaphor I used is kind of like getting a speeding ticket on the Thruway, which, of course, has never happened to me, but if it were to, you know for 10 miles you kind of slow down, and then your foot begins to go down a little faster on the pedal. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is with banking reform. We learned the lesson in '08, we had to. It was the worst financial crisis since the Depression. And put in place some good, meaningful reforms, but already, the forces who want to undo them have taken hold of Capitol Hill. And they’re saying undo some of the capital requirements, undo the Volcker Rule. And so we could go back faster than anybody would’ve imagined to the days when we’re at risk again. And that’s again one of the many reasons that we need Dylan in Washington to stop that pushback by the big institutions that want to undo smart reforms.

Your former opponent in the governor’s race, John Faso, is the Congressman in New York’s 19th district, a freshman who is considered marginal to hold onto the seat. Do you have a favorite in that primary Tuesday?

Look, Gareth Rhodes was a student of mine when I was an adjunct professor at CCNY. He’s spectacular. I contributed to him. I have not been invited -- actually, the place I have in Columbia County is in that district. I think Gareth is wonderful. I’ve seen a fair bit of coverage of that race. No one has asked me for an endorsement, this is by no means a formal endorsement, but I know Gareth Rhodes is spectacular. He also got the New York Times endorsement and so I would be certainly smiling and lifting a glass of Champagne if he won on Tuesday.

Do you think the Democrats have a strong chance to retake the House?

We do. The enthusiasm on our side of the isle is driven by the aberrant behavior of the individual who sits in the Oval Office, by the failure of either Paul Ryan and the Republican majority in Congress to either put a check on Donald Trump or to act rationally on such a huge list of issues that are central to the future of this nation. I think the public has seen that the articulation of issues by Trump and Paul Ryan is dangerous to this nation, and so I think we stand a very good chance. There are some tough races, where you know, gerrymandering will perhaps prevent us from winning where we should, but yes, we stand a very good chance. I look forward to seeing our Democratic Speaker of the House come next January.

Now, later in September, we have Democratic primary — an unexpected one — for an office you used to hold — attorney general. What qualities do you think the next attorney general — at least the Democratic candidate — should have, and do you have a favorite in that field?

Look, I’m not weighing in on that race in terms of any of the candidates. I would say that the critical variables are independence, intellect, and a conception of protecting the public interest through the use of the law in a non-partisan manner. That those are the defining principles of a good attorney general. And so I think if you look at the candidates who have put their names into the ring, again independence, intellect, and a non-partisan understanding of how to use the law to protect the public interest. Those are the critical issues.

Let me try on the governor’s race. There’s a Democratic primary there too. What are your thoughts about the Nixon-Cuomo race to date?

Look, all I’m going to say is that primaries are good for democracy. Competition works. I used to say that I didn’t care if it was public sector, private sector. Competition is good. It forces people to perform better, to articulate what they stand for. So this primary is good for the Democratic Party. It will help us understand what our candidates believe and where we want to go. I’ll leave it at that for now, and let’s see how this plays out. Let’s deal with Tuesday and then think about September after that.

OK. Let me ask you one more on the federal level. What do you make of the argument that the president’s lawyers and allies are making that he has absolute pardon power and oversight of the Justice Department to the extent that he can shut down an investigation for any reason?

It’s an area of the law that is somewhat unclear. And it’s unclear because no president has, for good reason, fortunately, ever been in the insane position that Donald Trump is in which is so many investigations pending about his business practices, alleged relationships with foreign governments. This is a sordid and low point in the history of the presidency. And if he were to exercise that pardon power based on those legal views, and I’m not going to pass judgement on the precise legality or extent of the pardon power. I can guarantee you this — it would be a political disaster for him. Even his own political advisors have acknowledged that. It would be worse than Nixon’s firing of the Watergate prosecutors. And it would consign Donald Trump to a position he may already hold, which is the worst modern president.

Is there anything that the Democrats should be doing to protect the investigation, as it continues, in your mind?

I think protecting the investigation is something that should be done, and is being done, fortunately, by both sides of the aisle. I think the Republican leadership in the Senate under Mitch McConnell (and I don’t often agree with Mitch McConnell), and in this case even Paul Ryan, have acknowledged that protecting the integrity of Mueller’s investigation is necessary for our constitutional structure, it’s necessary for our democracy, and there’s a bipartisan agreement that we cannot let that investigation either be shut down, hampered, or intimidated.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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