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Pyle: John Swallow is no Eliot Spitzer

Published November 15, 2013 5:20 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It was well known that, whenever Eliot Spitzer dropped by for a visit with The Buffalo News editorial board, we weren't getting a meaningful word out of the man until somebody put a cup of coffee in front of him.

The attorney general and later, briefly, governor of New York wasn't a particularly rude guest. Not by New York standards, anyway. He just wasn't functional until he'd had his caffeine.

And then came the day when all of us figured out why Spitzer so desperately needed a pick-me-up before he could engage the inquiring minds of the news media. He hadn't slept much.

On a Monday morning, The New York Times broke the story that Spitzer was the now-infamous Client No. 9, frequent customer of a high-priced global prostitution operation whose arrangements were overheard by federal investigators.

Spitzer had one stone-faced apologetic news conference that day, and another one a few days later. The second one was where he announced his resignation, which became effective the following Monday.

While the federal prosecutors on the case denied there was any kind of deal — resign and we won't charge you — Spitzer resigned and was not charged. The underlying investigation was mostly one involving banking and money-laundering laws. The money Spitzer was throwing around — a lot of it — was his, not the state's or his campaign's. So the feds seemed to lose interest.

It was the Usain Bolt of political scandals, the main arc of it clocking in at one week flat.

Compare that to the much less interesting — if only because it does not seem to involve sex of any kind — scandals surrounding the current Utah attorney general, John Swallow, and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff.

Elements of that have been percolating for years, been taken seriously since January and show no sign of making a quick exit. Mostly because Swallow doesn't have the decency of a toweringly egotistical hooker-buying hypocrite who took one politically savvy look around and departed.

The Spitzer scandal exploded onto the scene, then quickly faded away as a real news story — if you don't count his two attempts at hosting TV talk shows and a failed run for New York City comptroller — because it was a genuine shock to just about everyone.

There were people who didn't like Spitzer because he was brusque, combative and dared to suggest that rich people were supposed to obey the law. But nobody thought the Sheriff of Wall Street was trafficking in high-priced escorts. When it turned out that he was, it was all over.

Compare Spitzer's scandal to, say, Bill Clinton's. Everybody always knew Bubba was a horndog and, as long as the budget was in surplus and there seemed to be movement toward peace in the Middle East, tales of his womanizing mainly bothered people who already hated him anyway.

Likewise, anyone paying the least bit of attention over the past couple of years was well-aware of who Swallow and Shurtleff were in bed with, if only figuratively: payday lenders, online get-rich-quick schemers and other folks whose primary goal in life is to grab what they can before the cops get wise.

So every revelation about such matters only confirms what we already knew about them. No bombshells. Just same song, second verse. And a very long opera.

Spitzer, a Democrat, was also operating in a state with two functional, if mutually gerrymandered, political parties. He quit because he knew Republicans, who usually have a lot of power in the state Senate, would never let him off the hook.

Here, it is to the credit of legislative Republicans that they seem serious about getting to the bottom of the Swallow scandals. But the lack of a significant Democratic Party — stacked on top of the it's-who-you-know caucus nominating system — helped the clearly unqualified Swallow get elected in the first place, and has kept him in office much longer than he would have any right to expect in a functioning two-party state.

Or in a scandal that had any sex appeal to it.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, is still trying to explain to his family why he was a Buffalo News editorial writer for four years.

gpyle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @debatestate