Albany — For the governor, it's worse than a botched media leak. It's worse than using the state police to gather intelligence on a political rival.

Albany — For the governor, it's worse than a botched media leak. It's worse than using the state police to gather intelligence on a political rival.

With one thunderous misfire, Eliot Spitzer's top aides have torched a thousand flattering press clippings and marred a dozen heroic caricatures: The white knight soiled. The untouchable tarnished. The steamroller rolled. Last week, we witnessed the unraveling of the Spitzer myth, in five tumultuous days.

But it took more than Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's bombshell investigative report on the bumbled leak plot to fuel this meltdown.

The findings — that the Democrat's office had misused the state police to engineer an exposé on Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno's use of state helicopters — were damaging, not devastating.

Spitzer acted fast, suspending one top aide and reassigning another for mixing cops and politics. The scandal might have stopped there.

But, for many who had followed the former attorney general's meteoric rise to national fame, the incident confirmed a troubling Spitzer trait: that his hard-charging pursuit of justice would sometimes carry him across ethical lines.

Out came Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin's account of the time Spitzer lied about the multimillion-dollar campaign loan from his father. "'I had to,'" Goodwin said Spitzer told him.

Out came former Newsweek reporter Charles Gasparino's story of how Spitzer's now-suspended communications chief, Darren Dopp, tried to get the journalist fired after he questioned aspects of the attorney general's Wall Street probes.

Out came all the over-the-top boasts: "The knockout punch is coming;" "You'll pay the price," and, of course, "I'm a (expletive) steamroller."

Then, came revelations that Dopp and Spitzer's top aide, Town of Wallkill native Rich Baum, refused to testify about their roles in the leak plot.

Suddenly, Spitzer — who had pounded financial titans with threats of criminal charges and subpoenas — found himself dodging questions about whether his office had stonewalled an investigation. It was a dramatic, almost surreal turnabout.

"The steam has gone from the steamroller," Bruno, R-Brunswick, declared triumphantly. "The wheels have come off."

Which brings us to the most tragic part of this whole unfortunate sideshow. It's actually made Bruno look like the victim. (Isn't he the guy who took fundraising detours during his taxpayer-funded helicopter jaunts to New York City?)

That deals a staggering blow to Spitzer's overall effort to reform state government.

Spending cuts? School aid changes? Economic development programs? Environmental laws? To accomplish all these things, Spitzer needs Bruno and other lawmakers to either cooperate or submit.

The good news for Spitzer is that one humbling week might not have shaken people's faith in him.

A Marist poll released Friday found that while 62 percent of registered voters support further inquiry into the leak plot, 47 percent think the governor's doing a good job. That's up from 43 percent in March.

Spitzer, meanwhile, seems to realize how difficult it will be to get back on track.

"This is not a detour, not a bump, not a little bump in the road," he said during a tour of editorial boards last week. "This is a major problem that I have to confront."

If he does, the governor can survive. The steamroller, however, is likely dead.

Brendan Scott covers Albany for the Times Herald-Record. His column runs on Mondays. Read blog and other Albany coverage on's "Can This State Be Saved?" page. Reach him at 518-463-1157 or by e-mail at