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Lessons from Spitzer's fall

The system set up to catch financial misdeeds by politicians works.

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Political scandals may be titillating but in the lurid details and political meltdown of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, one thing must not be forgotten: He was collared by a law enforcement system that can catch even its own.

Mr. Spitzer knew the system well, first as an elected attorney general and then as governor, rising to fame as a reforming defender of law. That reputation adds to the heightened sense of hypocrisy and Shakespearean irony over official accusations of his regular use of a high-priced prostitution ring (across state lines) and his financial sleight-of-hand to pay for it.

His decision Wednesday to resign came as he faced an uncertain political and legal future. One poll showed that 70 percent of his constituents said he should step down. His ability to govern effectively seemed improbable, especially with criminal charges looming.

The governor's lapse of probity is not only hurtful to his family, but to the public trust he once held. Beyond being the bullying crusader who unearthed unlawful actions on Wall Street, he also worked to shut down the exploitative sex-trade industry. Now his private actions belie that public image, and hurt the causes he championed.

The public can be grateful that a system set up to catch financial misdoings of those entrusted with high offices apparently works. Perhaps this will serve as a cautionary tale for other officeholders.

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