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To resuscitate Spitzer, here's a 5-step plan

He has fallen, and we need him to get up.

As a public service, at no cost to taxpayers, I present a five-step guide for Eliot Spitzer's recovery.

His popularity is in a free-fall, plummeting from 74 percent favorable in February to 41 percent in a new poll. Some folks may revel in the decline of our first-year governor. Not I.

No governor so acutely felt our pain, or so intently promised to relieve it. Upstate was an economic "Appalachia," and candidate Spitzer vowed to help. He promised to tackle the petrified forest of Albany dysfunction, to change cost-inflating laws and rules that drive jobs to the Carolinas, to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

It might still work, if he stops dropping Kryptonite into his pocket.

Small victories have been overwhelmed by ethical and political blunders. Some top staffers misused the State Police while trying to discredit Republican boss and political foe Joe Bruno. The dirty tricks had a Nixonian odor and stained Spitzer's reputation for integrity.

Equally damaging was his lengthy battle to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Before pulling the plug Wednesday, Spitzer made enemies of allies and revealed a tin ear for political reality. It was the gubernatorial equivalent of Bill Clinton backing gays in the military.

"[Spitzer] wasted his political capital on Brunogate and illegal immigrant licenses," said a local Democratic official and former Albany staffer, who requested anonymity to protect his position. "He lost his bully pulpit."

Call it the education of Eliot Spitzer. Hopefully he is not beyond absorbing some lessons.

Any new job has a learning curve. The dents to Spitzer's armor are not irreparable. In the interest of reviving our reformist governor, a few suggestions:

1. Come clean: Spitzer earned a reputation as a corruption-killing, dragon-slaying attorney general. To reupholster his credibility, he now needs to shine the same light on his own people. He can start by cooperating instead of stonewalling investigations into Brunogate, even if they are politically motivated.

2. Pick your battles: Deciding to grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants was a loser from Day One -- with voters and with politicians. Even Kathy Hochul -- who got our county clerk job from Spitzer -- could not digest it, given the political fallout. Pressing the doomed fight for two months was politically perplexing and pragmatically nonsensical. People admire integrity, given Albany's finger-in-the-wind political culture. But inflexibility against all odds is simply self-destructive. How can a smart guy be so thick-skulled?

3. Lighten up: Spitzer's capitulation Wednesday on the licensing fiasco was more grudging than gracious. A lost cause is a lost cause. Defeat looks better when served with a smile. Self-righteousness is not a political virtue.

4. Hire somebody better at politics than policy: Often the opposite is true -- politicians are experts in self-preservation, vague on issues -- to the dismay of the rest of us. Spitzer has enough policy wonks. He needs someone politically savvy enough to know not to cross ethical boundaries in pursuit of political foes or to fight wars of attrition -- particularly ones you cannot win.

5. Stop acting like an attorney general: The days are over when Spitzer could strong-arm foes with a subpoena, or shame them into shape with a news conference. A governor should know when to flex his muscle and when to pat folks on the back.

Spitzer is not beyond redemption. Upstate is not beyond salvation. The guy who promised to save us needs to stop destroying himself.


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