“Nice kid. He’s gonna get killed,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York’s senior U.S. senator, growled backstage after grudgingly endorsing Eliot Spitzer’s 1998 candidacy for attorney general of New York. Moynihan, a fabled handicapper, was wrong: Spitzer won — albeit barely, by 25,186 votes out of 4.3 million cast, and only after a recount.
Now, thanks to his highly publicized attacks on the fraud and abuse in the financial services industry, he’s a household name, the most famous (or infamous, depending on your politics) New York-based prosecutor since Thomas Dewey. And as of this writing, he’s the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination for governor of New York and the likely winner of the general election in November.
“Spoiling for a Fight” is an impeccably researched, crisply written insider account of that history and its implications. Brooke Masters is a Washington Post reporter who has covered Wall Street and its white-collar crime extravaganzas for 16 years. She provides a riveting account of the highest of high-stakes lawyering by the whitest of white-shoe New York law firms (and their alumni on the in-house staffs of Spitzer’s targets) as they matched wits and writs with the AG and his overworked band of lieutenants.
Spitzer was a nice — if precocious and exceptionally ambitious — kid, according to Masters. The son of an upwardly mobile, first-generation-American real estate developer, Spitzer “lived an accelerated version of the classic Eastern European Jewish success story.” By the time Eliot was born in 1959, his parents had made it from Manhattan’s Lower East Side to the upscale Riverdale section of the Bronx; and by the time he was in middle school, the family had moved down the street from the Horace Mann School in Fieldston, which Eliot and his brother attended.