Sleaze Will Out


There are two Elizabeth Holtzmans.

The good Holtzman was a shiny-bright, four-term member of Congress from New York City, a foe of Watergate. She was a Brooklyn district attorney who took rape and child abuse seriously and a New York City comptroller who guarded the city credit rating.

The bad Holtzman was ambitious for higher office, or any elective office, at any cost. This bad Holtzman exempted herself from the ethical standards that the good Holtzman relentlessly enforced on others.

New York City voters had no trouble distinguishing between the two. Having sustained the good Holtzman in office for two decades, they dumped the bad Holtzman. Last week, she lost a run-off in the Democratic primary for city comptroller, probably ending the good Holtzman's public service career. The voters' discernment was impeccable, a lesson to office-holders everywhere.

Ms. Holtzman ran for the United States Senate in 1980. A Republican, Alfonse D'Amato, beat her. Two terms later, with Mr. D'Amato beatable, she saw her chance. So did others, notably her former congressional colleague, Geraldine Ferraro. Ms. Holtzman ran a blistering negative campaign against the favored Ms. Ferraro in the 1992 senatorial primary. As a result, Ms. Ferraro lost, but Ms. Holtzman came in a poor fourth.

Later it transpired that Ms. Holtzman's innuendo-laden ads had been financed by a $450,000 loan from a New England banking giant that went on to win a huge bond underwriting contract from the New York City comptroller, Ms. Holtzman. She also managed to postpone release of a damning Department of Investigations report questioning her honesty until after the primary campaign.

But the subject was out. The comptroller's primary was almost a three-way dead heat. An obscure Queens state assemblyman, Alan Hevesi, came in first. The incumbent, Ms. Holtzman, was second. So they needed a run-off. Former Rep. Herman Badillo, third, remains in the general election as the Republican and Liberal nominee.

In the primary run-off last Tuesday, New Yorkers turned out just to run Elizabeth Holtzman from office by a thumping 2-1 margin. She joins her nemesis, Ms. Ferraro, in oblivion. For the good Holtzman, this is a shame. For the bad Holtzman, it is just deserts.

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