Eliot Spitzer's downfall this week proved the unique power of shame. It was enough to force a governor to step down -- and, without a doubt, it is enough to deter other men from soliciting prostitutes in the near future.
The deterrent effect will diminish with time, but there's a way to keep it up
and that's by shaming convicted johns all across New York City.
That is exactly what I tried to do when I was mayor.
Maybe you remember "The John Hour."
It was 1979. Street prostitution was then destroying communities. After private media outlets newspapers, TV, radio rejected my proposal and refused to publish the names of convicted johns, I ordered WNYC, then a city-owned radio station, to read the names.
Controversy ensued. A New York Times editorial of October 26, 1979, commenting on what the editorial board referred to as "The 'John' Minute,"
noted the following, "This week's premiere of Mayor Koch's 'John Hour,' which
broadcast the names of nine convicted customers of prostitutes, was a shabby show, in no way redeemed by its brevity. It took only about a minute for city-employed announcers to read the names over city-owned radio and television stations. But it was a mighty misuse of government power."
They were wrong, and I was right. The "John Hour" aired only once but it should have become a regular fixture of life in the city.
And we ought to bring it back.
For Spitzer, this was a week-long "John Hour." Those calling for federal prosecutors to throw the book at him so that he winds up behind bars for paying for sex, are misguided. Shame was the right weapon to use against the governor and, if it were replicated in miniature across our city, it would be a powerful deterrent.
I am a friend of Spitzer. I did not relish his fall. I supported him in his last two successful elections for attorney general, and again in his election for governor.
He won the latter race with 69% of the vote, a blowout victory.
As governor, Eliot sought to get his way with his Albany peers, Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, using what some have
described as threatening and vile language.
In the case of Bruno, it is alleged Spitzer used state troopers to investigate the senator. He also allegedly threatened individual legislators, referring to himself as a "steamroller" and using the f-word to convey his willingness to stop at nothing to get his way.
It was at that point that I began to think Eliot had a screw loose.
The latest revelations regarding Spitzer's use of prostitutes reaffirm my layman's assessment of his mental state. Why a person who appears to have a loving wife, beautiful and talented in her own right, and three beautiful daughters would resort to prostitutes is a mystery.
Spitzer had no recourse but to resign. Otherwise he surely would have been
impeached. He had alienated every potential ally who might have come to his defense in the Assembly or the Senate.
On top of that, Spitzer's statement announcing his indiscretions produced no
sympathy, nor did his announcement of resignation. His tone and demeanor displayed no real contrition toward the public.
But he was shamed thoroughly and completely. Let's be satisfied with that.
I believe the punishment of leaving government resigning under these
circumstances is sufficient. I hope there is no criminal punishment to
Yes, it's always possible that other crimes could be brought to light; but as far as prostitution goes, the man has endured enough.
Slave rings that transport people against their will and force them into the sex trade are abhorrent criminal operations that must be dismantled with the full force of the law.
Consensual prostitution violates the law but should be treated differently. It demands a different kind of government response.
Punishing the women or the men who solicit them with jail time is not warranted.
Understand and harness the power of shame.