Observe the Mighty Falling

“When the Eliot [Spitzer] thing exploded, I was there, I experienced it all, but I didn’t really feel like I understood what had just happened. I figured if I reviewed the sequence of events, I would understand what happened.”

In the fall of 2003, Lloyd Constantine ’69 wrapped up the largest federal antitrust suit in U.S. history—a case that ended in a $3.4 billion settlement against Visa and MasterCard. A veteran litigator, a founder and partner in Constantine & Partners (later renamed Constantine Canon LLP), he knew from experience that the close of a trial would be a serious let down. To cope, he decided to write a book about the case.

“These are cases that usually last two or three years, and you put this really, really intensive effort forward—and when it’s over, win, lose or draw, you get depressed,” he explained, running his fingers along the edge of a conference table in his Manhattan office. “This one was so hard and so long and so much more intense than anything else that I had ever been involved in, I said, you know, you’re really going to take a hit. So I decided to adopt a strategy that would allow me to continue to work on the case, so I could privately stay with these characters and these events and what was going on. It would be like going from heroin to methadone. And it worked.”

He finished writing a year to the day after the case ended, and in 2006, he shared the manuscript with his longtime friend and colleague, Eliot Spitzer, who at the time was running for governor of New York State. “Eliot said, ‘Put it away in a box for your kids,’” Constantine recalled. “’You take on a lot of people. You criticize a lot of very important people. We don’t need that as we go into this new administration.’ Obviously there’s a lot of irony in that. But I put it aside.”

Spitzer, of course, was elected governor, only to resign just 15 months later when it was revealed he had been frequenting prostitutes. Constantine, who served as senior adviser in the administration, resigned shortly afterward. He spent several months cycling, traveling and generally trying to make sense of what had happened to his friend—who, all in a moment, had ceased to be a potential Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States. On a 17-hour flight back from India in mid-2008 Constantine once again used writing as a means of catharsis, completing the entire prologue to what would become a book about Spitzer’s governorship.

Feeling reinvigorated, he returned to his Chatham, N.Y., home, where he locked himself up for months and rewrote his manuscript about the Visa/MasterCard case. A first-time author at age 62, Constantine accepted the first offer presented by his agent and published Priceless: The Case that Brought Down the Visa/MasterCard Bank Cartel (Kaplan Publishing, 2009). As a result of the book deal, he says, “I felt like I got a huge vitamin B-12 shot.” While reviewing the contract with Kaplan, Constantine noted a provision that allowed his publisher right of first refusal on his second book, which he already knew would be about the tumultuous and short-lived Spitzer administration. He mailed off the first 100 pages, and within a month he had two books under contract. “It was like a dream come true,” Constantine said. “It felt unbelievably great.”

Journal of the Plague Year (Kaplan Publishing, 2010), which takes its title from a 1722 novel by Daniel Defoe about the Great Plague in London, recounts the days beginning with Spitzer’s transition into office and provides an insider’s chronicle of missteps that occurred long before the prostitution scandal became public. There were fumbled appointments as well as “Troopergate,” in which the governor’s office was investigated for ordering the New York State Police to record the travel of State Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno.

In a statement, Spitzer called Journal of the Plague Year “self-serving and largely inaccurate.” Others have criticized the book as incomplete. But Constantine wasn’t out to write a tell-all: “It’s a tell some.” he said. “A lot of people are saying, ‘You didn’t tell the full story,’ and other people are saying, ‘You told too much.’ I had to strike that balance.”

Many of the details he kept private because of his longtime friendship with Spitzer’s wife Silda, though the two are not in contact at present. In publishing the book, he said, “I’m doing the right thing for myself, for Eliot and the people of New York. But not for this woman I love and care about.”

Still, Constantine has no regrets. He has resumed his law practice part time and is planning a third book, most likely a memoir about his Jewish youth on Long Island, which will revolve around Jeffrey Kagel, now known as Krishna Das, one of the world’s foremost performers of Indian devotional music called kirtan.

“The last thing I wanted to do was to come back to the practice of law by default,” he said. “But then the books happened, and it got me thinking like a writer.”

IMAGE CREDIT: by Roman Iwasiwka