Eliot Spitzer’s ‘Good Baptist Wife’
By Sewell Chan
You would think that Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who is Jewish, would be exempt from reminders about attending church on Sunday, but that is what happened – indirectly – during a visit to Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem on Sunday morning.
Governor Spitzer attended the crowded 9 a.m. service at Abyssinian, a renowned and powerful congregation, as an honored guest of its pastor, the Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, who warmly welcomed him from the pulpit.
“The governor has been in office less than three months and his critics are already at his heels, but for any of us who have ever served in a leadership capacity, and done it with sincerity, you know that it is very difficult to do anything in three months,” Dr. Butts said. He praised Mr. Spitzer for his work on health care and education. (As Dr. Butts noted, he is chairman of the board of directors at North General Hospital and president of the State University of New York College at Old Westbury.)
Then Dr. Butts added, rather unexpectedly: “It is good of him to come. The only thing he did not do was bring his wife. Now for those of you who do not know, Eliot Spitzer’s wife is a good Baptist. She should be in church this morning. But he will tell you where she is, and I assure you that where she is, is in keeping with the cause of Almighty God.”
The governor’s wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, was raised as a Southern Baptist. Mr. Spitzer is Jewish, but not especially observant.
Mr. Spitzer, noting that the church was celebrating its annual women’s day, said, “Every day in my house is Women’s Day,” noting that he and his wife had three daughters.
Mr. Spitzer gave a fairly standard stump speech, talking up his desire to make sure that every child has access to health insurance and prekindergarten classes and hinting at the brewing fight with state lawmakers over his health care proposals. “We know this doesn’t happen without bumps, without critics,” he said, adding, “We won’t be forestalled from doing what we know is right.”
Then the governor found himself having to explain the whereabouts of his wife.
“Let me just conclude by telling you where Silda, my good Baptist wife, is and I have to go home and explain Reverend Butts rapped me a little bit for her not being here.”
He explained that she was taking part in Project Cicero, an annual book drive to create or supplement libraries in disadvantaged New York City schools. The project has collected nearly 800,000 new and gently used books for 4,500 classrooms and libraries; Ms. Wall Spitzer is one of three co-chairwomen of the executive committee.
The congregation seemed satisfied with the explanation.
Returning to his earlier themes, Mr. Spitzer concluded, “I will pledge to you to come back with Silda to report to you how we are doing.”
[Repost from 3/12/07]