The governor of New York gave an interview this week. Not the governor of New York who resigned over the five-grand-an-hour hooker he had waiting for him in room 871 of the Mayflower in Washington. That was last week's governor of New York — "Client #9," Mister Sleaze, Mister I-transport-women-across-state-lines-for-immoral-purposes, Mister If-I-pay-extra-can-we-do-something-"unsafe"?
No, this was this week's governor of New York — Mister New Broom, sweeping clean. So a few hours after being sworn in on Monday, the new gubernatorial broom gives an interview to New York's Daily News, headlined as follows:
"Gov. Paterson Admits To Sex With Other Woman For Years."
Very shrewd politically. What could be savvier than coming in the way the other fellow went out? David Paterson may be the first black governor of New York and also the first blind governor of New York, but it's good to know, midst all this shattering of the glass ceiling, that it's only to get to the hot-sheet penthouse. As the newspaper reported, "The thunderous applause was still ringing in his ears when the state's new governor, David Paterson, told the Daily News that he and his wife had extramarital affairs."
For two or three years, he used to travel down from the state legislature at Albany to meet up with his mistress at the Days Inn on 94th Street in Manhattan. But, as a subsequent story reported after a couple of expense claims for the relevant hostelry turned up, "I Never Used State Cash To Pay For Liaisons." And, even if he did, booking the Days Inn is a lot more fiscally responsible than putting up at the Mayflower.
Also, he didn't break the Mann Act because he kept the mistress in state rather than, as his predecessor did, buying a train ticket to ship "Kristen" from Penn Station in New York to Union Station in Washington. Like the song says:
Pardon me, girl, is that the Prostitootin' Choo-Choo?
Client Number Nine?
Gimme the check and I'll sign . . .
You leave the Pennsylvania Station 'bout a quarter to four
Read a magazine while you're awaiting your whore
Dinner date with Kristen
Gee, my eyes are mistin'
Pity 'bout the extras, but I'm still persistin' . . .
When last week's Empire State gubernatorial scandal broke — that's the Eliot Spitzer sex story, not the David Paterson sex story — the press noted the ritual presence of the sad wife dutifully standing by her no-good husband. Mrs. Spitzer being unavailable for interview, the media sought a comment from the previous first lady to find herself the victim of gubernatorial infidelity — Dina McGreevey from across the Hudson in New Jersey.
In her harrowing confessional memoir, Mrs. McGreevey revealed how stunned she was when her husband James told her it was time for her to get out the old sober suit and sorrowful expression because the limo was waiting to take them to the press conference — oh, and by the way, it wasn't with a girl, it was with a boy, New Jersey's "homeland security" adviser. When it comes to homeland security in the Garden State, they take off a lot more than their shoes and coats. "My truth is that I am a gay American," announced Governor McGreevey.
Anyway, last week the former first lady of New Jersey gave a couple of interviews saying how she felt the former first lady of New York's pain. That, in turn, brought former gubernatorial aide Theodore Pedersen out of the woodwork. "I wanted to get this out now because it was so offensive to me that she goes on television playing the victim," Mr. Pedersen told the Newark Star-Ledger. "She should have told the truth about the three of us."
Er, hang on: the "three of us"? Why, yes. Mr. Pedersen revealed that he had "three-way sexual trysts" with Governor and Mrs. McGreevey — and the good news is you don't even have to book a room at the Days Inn. Instead, the "weekly romps" "typically began with dinner at T.G.I. Friday's and ended with a threesome at McGreevey's condo in Woodbridge." Dinner at T.G.I Friday's? What's that? Twelve bucks? Try proposing that to "Kristen."
How long before someone comes forward claiming to have had a four-way "romp" with Governor Spitzer, Governor McGreevey and Mrs. McGreevey somewhere in the, ah, bi-state area, preferably in a gubernatorial limo stuck in gridlock under the Holland Tunnel? Actually, it's technically known as the tristate area, but the governor of Connecticut seems to be sitting this one out and letting N.Y. and N.J. do all the heavy lifting.
I am, as long-time readers know, the most fanatical "Europhobe" in North America, but on balance I think our transatlantic cousins do political sex scandals better. The French have tremendous élan, of course. Nicolas Sarkozy shuffles first ladies faster than Britney does hubbies, but you can get away with an awful lot if you're Gallically insouciant about it. Jacques Chirac is said to have hit on the wife of the Syrian president during his state visit to Paris, and certainly, if you're as passionately committed as Mr. Chirac to personal outreach to the Arab world, Mrs. Assad is well worth reaching out for. Barack Obama may believe in The Audacity Of Hope but Jacques Chirac prefers the audacity of grope.
For their part, no political party has the range of sexual appetites of the British Tories. Lord Lambton was caught in flagrante with two girls, one white, one black, while Stephen Milligan preferred more solitary pursuits and was found dead on his kitchen table naked but for ladies' stockings and the plastic bag over his head, victim of an over-ambitious bout of "auto-erotic asphyxiation." If not quite so fatally inept, Labour members are nevertheless also ill-starred in their extra-marital forays. A few years back, one chap embarked on a nocturnal expedition from Westminster to Clapham Common in pursuit of some Rastafarian "rough trade." The evening began straightforwardly enough when he spotted "Boogie," a respected crack dealer and pimp, and beckoned him over.
Alas, instead of spending the evening in the arms of some muscular hunk, he found himself relieved of his wallet, and, when Boogie and his chums went through it, they discovered that their hapless client was, in fact, Her Majesty's secretary of state for Wales.
Ron Davies is now remembered, if at all, as the first minister of the Crown to deliver a resignation speech referencing the first act finale of La Cage aux folles: "We are what we are," he ruefully told the House of Commons. Sadly, even that is not always clear. He said how moved he'd been by a "letter of support" he'd received from Diana Ross — "It is impossible to imagine your hurt yet I feel it as though it were my own." Unfortunately, this turned out to be not Diana Ross the celebrated Motown diva but a Miss D. Ross of the north London suburbs.
The British even get the full comic juice from the bit every American female columnist was tutting over last week — the wife with the rictus grin standing on the podium alongside the Adulterer of the Week. A decade or so back, a famously avuncular BBC host, Frank Bough, turned up in the morning papers hanging upside down in a bondage dungeon being whipped by his dominatrix. With touching naiveté, Frank had always paid by personal cheque. His loyal missus dutifully did the stand-by-her-man routine, pledging defiantly that the couple would survive the scandal. Or, as she told the Daily Mail, "We will not be beaten." Speak for yourself.
Why do American sex scandals lack either the Brits' comic inventiveness or the Frogs' effortless bravura? Go back to that line of Governor McGreevey's: "My truth is that I am a gay American." That's such an exquisitely contemporary formulation: "my" truth. Once upon a time, there was only "the" truth. Now everyone gets his own — at least if you're a Democrat, as McGreevey, Spitzer and Paterson are. As New Jersey's chief exec put it, "One has to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul and decide one's unique truth in the world." But the point is that whatever "unique truth" the consultants have run past the focus groups has to bear at least a passing relationship to the real, actual truth. That was Spitzer's mistake.
As a public figure, his "unique truth" was as a law-enforcement crusader against everyone else's footling failings, including very zealous prosecution of nickel-and-dime prostitution rings. "I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself," he told New Yorkers. In other words, there is no agreed societal morality. As President-for-Life of the Republic of Spitzer, he was in breach only of his own standards.
A truly satisfying sex scandal is difficult in such an age, which is why the Spitzer story offers only a big brute of a man suddenly shrunken to a fool having motel sex at Mayflower prices. On the other hand, I would like to announce that I too have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself, just in case my mistress, my catamite or my goat are negotiating exclusive interviews with the North Bay Nugget.