Ruth Marcus: Spitzer and Greenberg, a redemption epic

BY RUTH MARCUS Published: July 10, 2013
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“I have no spur

To prick the sides of my intent, but only

Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself

And falls on the other.”

— Macbeth

Oh what Shakespeare could have done with the intertwined dramas and flawed characters of Eliot Spitzer and Maurice Greenberg.

The fallen politician and the fallen tycoon have found themselves — have propelled themselves — into the headlines once again.

Spitzer, mirroring the post-sex scandal redemption narratives of Mark Sanford and Anthony Weiner, has announced an eleventh-hour bid for New York City comptroller. A fall, to be sure, from the heights of the governorship and the prospect of a presidential bid, but a borehole back into the alluring, ego-gratifying world of politics.

“I think anybody who has been through what I have been through — sure you want redemption,” Spitzer told “CBS This Morning,” just before insisting that service, not redemption, was his goal.

Greenberg, who was forced to resign as head of insurance giant AIG under the shadow of an investigation by, you guessed it, then-New York Attorney General Spitzer, is himself back in the news. At 88, he is staging what The Wall Street Journal terms “an improbable comeback,” crisscrossing the globe to assemble a new insurance conglomerate, not quite as spectacular as the one he built, but still … redemption.

This even as Greenberg prepares to defend himself against the remnants of Spitzer's lawsuit. New York's top court refused last month to dismiss the allegations that Greenberg manipulated earnings at AIG, a subject that has already produced a $115 million class-action settlement from Greenberg and other top executives and Greenberg's agreement to pay $15 million to settle charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Meanwhile, Greenberg pursues his own $25 billion lawsuit asserting that the federal government's 2008 rescue of AIG, whose risky derivatives contracts helped trigger the financial crisis, was actually an unconstitutional “taking.” Greenberg was gone from AIG by then, but his Starr International Company was AIG's largest private shareholder, and a federal judge just ruled that Starr's case can proceed.

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