A reform-driven New York governor with lofty ambitions takes on the state legislature – only to quickly leave office in disgrace. Eliot Spitzer? Well, first there was William Sulzer – and 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of his impeachment and removal from office – a weird and wild affair described by Jack O'Donnell in his new book, "Bitten By The Tiger."
While Spitzer's chief nemesis was then-State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, Sulzer had his hands full with Tammany Hall chieftain Charles Murphy. And like in Spitzer's case, when things first appear to be black and white, there's a lot of gray in the story of Sulzer's precipitous political plunge.
O'Donnell, a guest on "Road to City Hall" tonight, does a terrific job describing the politics of Albany in 1913 – and it's a little scary how little things have changed. Remember how Spitzer went on a statewide tour to denounce the appointment of Tom DiNapoli as State Comptroller? Sulzer has his own barnstorming sweep across New York to promote direct primary elections and uses Spitzer-like language to denounce lawmakers who oppose him. ("I warn anybody who attacks me that I will strip him of his hide, and tack the hide on the ceiling of the Capitol at Albany.") And just like Spitzer, the great crusading Sulzer turns out to have feet made of clay.
From Robert Wagner to Al Smith to Theodore Roosevelt to William Randolph Hearst, the cast of characters surrounding Sulzer's impeachment is a who's who of the progressive era. It's remarkable that this story which was national news at the time is little more than a political footnote, even in the Empire State. This is a must read for any student of New York politics and should be required reading for all state lawmakers. It's amazing how the internal political jockeying in Albany continues 100 years after Sulzer slinked away from the stage.