Big news in New York these days: disgraced politicians Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner are both running for political office again. Spitzer, who was New York’s attorney general and governor, is pursuing city comptroller. Weiner, a former New York Congressman, is making a play for mayor.
As you may recall, both earned their shame honestly. As governor, Spitzer patronized high priced prostitutes and resigned in 2008. In 2011, Weiner Tweeted pictures of his bare chest and favorite organ, lied vociferously about doing so, and then resigned his office as representative. The wives of both men stood by faithfully in the immediate aftermath, posing for publicity with pained, twisted expressions on their faces.
Both Spitzer and Weiner are doing well in their respective races. Spitzer is the frontrunner in the Democratic primary race for New York City comptroller.Voters seem inclined to forgive their peccadillos, and the media loves a salacious story where sex can peek out under the mantle of serious politics.
Bigger news, to me, are the roles being played, or not played, by the wives here. Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, is a former top aide for Hillary Clinton. She was pregnant with her first child when the Weiner scandal broke. Having been through a nasty divorce myself, I mentally advised her to cut and run at that point, before the marital mud got even muddier. However, Abedin stood by her man, seems to be a happy wife and mother, and is pursuing the political spouse role with gusto. She has made numerous campaign appearances, with and without Weiner, and is proving to be a formidable fundraiser on her husband’s behalf.
Silda Wall Spitzer, alternatively, is staying out of sight. She and Eliot Spitzer are living 18 blocks apart in Manhattan, she in the family apartment on Fifth Avenue, he nearby with his ailing parents. Silda Spitzer, a former corporate lawyer, has returned to fulltime work as a private equity advisor with NewWorld Capital Group. On weekends she slips out of town to the couple’s 160 acre Hudson River Valley retreat.
A friend explained Silda Spitzer’s “support” of her husband’s campaign decision to the New York Times:
“To be honest, she’d probably rather he didn’t do it,” said Karen Finerman, a longtime friend of the couple whose new book was feted by Ms. Wall Spitzer at a party last month. “It opens up a whole chapter that was a difficult chapter,” Ms. Finerman added. “But it is not in her nature to say to him, ‘No, you can’t.’ ”
Ever think how you might choose to play the role of political spouse? How would you react if your beloved, for whom you had sacrificed so very much, betrayed you on the public stage? Would you react differently if you and your husband were in the political limelight?
Might you choose a Stepford-wife role, a la Cindy McCain or Callista Gingrich, always appearing in public with a perfect blond coif, bright smile, and color coordinated, politically-correct and camera-friendly solid color dress (never pants, of course).
Or would you fume like the proverbial woman scorned? Write a tell-mostly-all memoir like Jenny Sanford? Burn his suits and ties on the front yard? Develop a killer ulcer or alcohol abuse problem? Retreat to your home state to protect your and your children’s privacy, quietly building an impenetrable emotional brick wall around yourself?
In many ways, Hillary Clinton is the quintessential political wife, publicly standing by Bill despite his numerous affairs and scandals during his time as Arkansas governor and then two-term U.S. president. But Hillary Clinton, importantly, redefined what it meant to be a political wife. Instead of being used by the experience, she used the experience to strengthen herself. She honed her political savvy as First Lady, and patiently built a broad, strong network for herself within the Democratic party. She then put these skills and relationships to excellent use in her own career as New York senator, Secretary of State, and presidential candidate.
I have no clue what I’d do in Abedin, Spitzer or Clinton’s high heels. Much like motherhood itself, hypotheticals do me no good – when you are in that ugly spotlight, I imagine you don’t really have many true choices. I suspect I’d most resemble Silda Spitzer, quietly putting myself and my future first. I will probably never know for sure, given that my husband shows no interest in a political career.
In the meantime, it’s fascinating and sometimes infuriating – more of that wonderful people-watching New York is so famous for — to see these talented, strong women navigate their very public lives and choices.