THE BLOG

5 Things Women Should Know About Eliot Spitzer

08/08/2013 02:54 pm ET | Updated Oct 08, 2013
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As a life-long feminist, I’ve often been struck by the lack of insight in the political realm into a simple fact: So-called “women’s issues” are everyone’s issues.

When women have access to reproductive healthcare, when they are supported in the workplace, when they can enjoy a dignified retirement, when they are protected from Wall Street predators, when they are economically secure, everyone wins.

Enter a candidate for New York City Comptroller who has an outstanding record on all of these issues. One who has shown an unmatched enthusiasm for challenging Wall Street abuses that disproportionately impact women, one who has championed women’s workplace rights and access to healthcare — and one who even publicly calls himself a feminist.

Incredibly, some women, like NOW New York president Sonia Ossorio, have chosen to actually team up with business leaders to spend $1.5 million to skew the election and defeat Eliot Spitzer in his bid for office. Is Ossorio representing the National Organization for Women, or the National Organization for Wall Street? In a fit of apparent amnesia, Sasha Ahuja of Planned Parenthood’s New York City Action Fund dissed Spitzer by saying she’s backing Scott Stringer because she wants “candidates that don’t just give a nod to women’s issues.” Huh? Spitzer has given far more than a nod to women’s issues— in fact, he has been a vigorous defender of Ahuja’s own group.

When Karl Rove convinces lower-income whites to vote against their own interest by inflaming them on issues like gay marriage, most progressives and liberals can easily see the game that is being played. Where is that wisdom now?

Some women — thankfully not all — are getting whipped up into a myopic fury and a simplistic stance toward a man whose advocacy of things that matter to them seems to far outweigh the mistake that caused him to resign his office five years ago. This works out well for those who’d rather treat women’s fundamental rights like so many poker chips to toss around in political games. And it’s a dream come true for crooks in the financial services industry who don’t want a comptroller watching them who actually knows what they’re up to and is willing to take them on to protect the interests of New York’s women.

Maybe a close examination of Spitzer’s record will help restore some perspective. Here are 5 things women should consider in assessing Eliot Spitzer as a candidate for New York City Comptroller.

1. Spitzer is a feminist: Yes, that’s right. Recently on MSNBC, Spitzer was asked if he was a feminist. He immediately said yes. That answer emphatically distinguishes him from the vast majority of men, four fifths of whom polls show do not consider themselves feminists, and even many prominent women, such as Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer.

Contrary to what some of the more rigid feminists in high places are saying right now, feminism is not a rulebook handed out by well-heeled, well-connected women in New York City. As Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams recently explained, it is a fluid concept big enough to include conflicting points of view on any number of issues, and some imperfect beings, too. From the very beginning, men have taken part in and identified with feminism, and have used their influence to promote women’s rights. But you don’t see a lot of major politicians flying their feminist flag.

When was the last time you heard Mike Bloomberg describe himself as a feminist? The billionaire mayor donates to Planned Parenthood, but his trickle-down economics and Wall Street pandering certainly do not help women. Apart from that, his public and private sexism is notorious.  Who can forget his infamous opinion in a deposition on a sexual harassment case that he would believe a rape charge only if the victim could produce an “unimpeachable third-party witness”? That’s not the viewpoint of a man who is thoughtful about women and their experiences.

Spitzer, on the other hand, goes on national television and calls himself a feminist — an identification that is part of the progressive stance that has shaped his politics, reflected in his repeated actions to protect women’s rights and strengthen their economic security by taking on the Wall Street predators a politician like Bloomberg caters to.

2. Protecting Reproductive rights: Representatives from Planned Parenthood and NARAL say they want a strongly pro-choice comptroller. They might recall that as governor of New York, Spitzer introduced legislation to protect a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy following the Supreme Court’s disappointing upholding of anti-abortion legislation. That same bill, the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act, sought to remove abortion from criminal statues and repealed criminalization of over-the-counter contraception to minors. You can read Planned Parenthood’s enthusiastic description of Spitzer’s bill on the Planned Parenthood website.

And that’s not all. As attorney general, Spitzer defended women’s access to reproductive health services and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against a family accused of harassing women at a Planned Parenthood clinic, resulting in an $80,000 fine. He also formed a special unit within his office to combat violence at health clinics across the state.

After leaving office, Spitzer continued to speak out on behalf of women’s reproductive rights. Want to see him vigorously defending Planned Parenthood from a right-wing attack? Take a look at this 2011 CNN discussion with a PP critic.

 3. Promoting Women’s Healthcare: Spitzer’s advocacy of women’s healthcare goes beyond reproductive issues to other critical health initiatives. Cervical cancer, once the leading cause of death for U.S. females, still kills thousands of American women every year. In 2007, Spitzer worked to expand cervical cancer vaccination for low-income teens and women. His budget as governor also increased funding for the Breast Cancer Detection And Education Program. Before that, as attorney general, Spitzer supported mandated coverage of mammograms and called for implementation of expanded mammogram care.

And while we’re on the subject of health, let’s look back at what else Spitzer was up to as attorney general.  In addition to going after Wall Street criminals, he pursued drug companies who deceived doctors and hid important information about the safety of drugs. For example, he won a major settlement against pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline for concealing negative data on the antidepressant drug Paxil, which was being prescribed to children. Moms across New York have Spitzer to thank for protecting their kids against fraudulent drug companies.

4. Defending Working Mothers and Families:  Women often struggle to balance the demands of the workplace with their heavy responsibilities caring for children and elderly parents. In his 2008 State of the State address, Spitzer said that New Yorkers shouldn’t have to choose between economic security and caring for their families. He pushed for a paid leave plan that would give New York workers 12 weeks a year in paid leave to take care of newborn children and seriously ill family members. That plan was far superior to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which only gave covered workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

Spitzer also showed his support to women who run businesses. As governor, he signed an executive order creating an Executive Leadership Council and Corporate Roundtable to promote opportunities for Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (MWBE) and help level the business playing field.

5. Wall Street Watchdog:  What does Wall Street have to do with women? A lot, actually.  Wall Street predations and reckless activities have cost millions of women their jobs, homes, and pensions. Swindlers in business suits have triggered massive funding crises in cities across America by charging outrageous fees, setting up harmful financial deals, and other shenanigans.

Women pay disproportionately for all this. They endure cuts to the social services they rely on to keep themselves and their families afloat in times of need. Teachers, nurses, and other public workers are laid off and see their pensions under attack. Detroit is merely the worst example — Wall Street hustlers have drained public coffers across the country.

The comptroller oversees New York City’s pension funds and has many dealings with Wall Street and corporations. Spitzer, known as the “Sheriff of Wall Street” during his tenure as attorney general, has the knowledge and capability to examine fee structures on pension funds and aggressively challenge things like stratospheric executive compensation at the companies in which they are invested. No wonder business interests are supporting the anti-Spitzer Super Pac!

Spitzer has said that he wants to use the comptroller’s office as a platform for activism that would allow him to use the power of public investments to make Wall Street act fairly and to protect the retirements of New York workers.  As comptroller, he would have the power of oversight to make sure tax dollars are spent wisely and not just shoveled over to corporate interests. That’s good for New York women and their families.

Before dismissing a man who made a mistake five years ago, women should look at the total record and the whole person before deciding if Eliot Spitzer is a candidate worth supporting.  His record of achievement in his famous suits against Wall Street, Glaxo, and other corporate behemoths is without any real peer in the U.S. today. He has been a staunch supporter reproductive rights and his record of advancing the needs of working women and families show him to be an ally to women, despite any trumped up charges to the contrary.