With a possible transition from head prosecutor to chief executive of New York State looming, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer seems to be rethinking some of his rhetoric.
"On occasion, I look back and say, 'I wish I could take some of my words back,'" Spitzer told The New York Times.
With a war chest of $18 million, Spitzer, a Democrat, is a favorite to win the governor's seat in 2006. And while his approval rating is near 70%, experts say Spitzer might need to prove himself as a coalition builder, not just the pit bull that made his name by exposing the mutual fund scandal and other Wall Street abuses.
In December, John C. Whitehead, a Wall Street wonder recently appointed as chairman of the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Commission, aimed to debunk Spitzer's image as a crusader against corporate corruption by painting him instead as a brash, Big Board bully. In recent reports from The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, Whitehead recounted a conversation in which Spitzer declared "a war" between them, after Whitehead had criticized the AG for overstepping his office's authority.
Others, such as Stephen Cutler, former director of enforcement for the Securities and Exchange Commission, have accused Spitzer of threatening, rather than negotiating, during joint settlement discussions. "He said, 'Look, I'm going to have to do what I'm going to have to do. I'm going to go out publicly and make life uncomfortable for you and the SEC,'" recalled Cutler, who said he remains "friendly" with Spitzer.
In the story, published on Sunday in The NYTimes, Spitzer did not back down from any of the lawsuits his office has pursued, but he took an uncharacteristically tempered tone when reflecting on past dealings.
"Have my answers or responses sometimes been disproportionate? I guess I'd be disingenuous - there have been moments, there are times I would look back and say, maybe that didn't merit that kind of response," Spitzer said, adding, "I've always tried, and not always succeeded after the fact - to patch up the relationship. This is never personal to me. Never."
But the targets of some of those comments have taken them personally, and Republican strategists know they'll need their support to defeat Spitzer.
One such target is Home Depot co-founder Kenneth G. Langone. Spitzer's office accused a group, including Langone, of duping New York Stock Exchange members about former NYSE Chairman Richard Grosso's pay package.
According to Langone, Spitzer told former General Electric Chairman Jack Welch, "Ken's like a vampire. You kind of have to put a stake through his heart to stop him."
Welch did not return calls from reporters at the Times seeking comment.
In response to Spitzer's gubernatorial bid, Langone has raised $1 million on behalf of Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Souzzi, a Democrat who hopes to challenge Spitzer.
But Spitzer's harsh words are not reserved for those he has sued. Fellow politicians, ranging from New York State Assembly Members Richard L. Brodsky (D-Westchester) and Catherine Nolan (D-Queens) to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, say they have recently reconciled with the AG.
Whether or not his remarks in Sunday's story are meant to protect his lead, Spitzer further championed his "intensity" as a trait that helped him recoup millions of dollars for mutual fund investors and will help him reshape Albany.
"I don't want to strip my personality so far down to be neutered and I don't seem human," he said.
The staff of Money Management Executive ("MME") has prepared these capsule summaries based on reports published by the news sources to which they are attributed. Those news sources are not associated with MME, and have not prepared, sponsored, endorsed, or approved these summaries.