Stephen Goldsmith resigned a month ago as New York’s Deputy Mayor for Operations. At the time, he and Mayor Bloomberg said he was quitting to pursue some private-sector opportunities.
That wasn’t true. In fact, he quit because the Washington, DC, police had arrested him on a charge of domestic violence. After two nights in jail, he was released without any charges filed. DC has a “mandatory arrest” policy: once a call has been made, the police have no discretion about locking up the person accused, even if – as in this case – the person who made the call doesn’t want an arrest made and denies that any violence occurred.
At the end of last week, the New York Post broke the story, which was then picked up by the New York Times and other outlets. Margaret Goldsmith, who called the police about her husband’s conduct, says it was all a “misunderstanding” – “I wanted Steve to leave the house and was too tired to deal with it by myself” – prompted in part by two sleepless nights, and has (apparently) said under oath not only that there was no violence in this instance but that there’s never been any violence in the relationship. Goldsmith’s first wife says he was never violent with her, either, and finds the charge inconsistent with the man she knows.
Now we’re into the second round of stories, in which Mayor Bloomberg is accused of a “cover-up” for allowing Goldsmith to leave without announcing the arrest.
I call bullsh*t.
Of course it’s impossible, from the outside, to know what actually happened that evening. Clearly there was an argument, in the course of which Margaret Goldsmith said to her husband, “I should have put a bullet through you years ago.” She tried to make a phone call; he tried to stop her; eventually she called the police.
It’s possible that the police “misunderstood,” or that they merely applied the mandatory-arrest policy without reference to whatever they did or didn’t believe. It’s also possible that there was an actual act of domestic assault – perhaps Goldsmith did, in fact, shove his wife – and that the victim (like so many others) is now recanting for her own reasons (concern for the batterer, consequences to herself).
In this context, the report of the first wife deserves, it seems to me, considerable weight; it’s conceivable either that he was violent toward her and she, too, is covering it up or that he suddenly turned to domestic violence at age 64, but neither seems likely. Margaret Goldsmith suffers from lupus; both the disease, and the steroids often prescribed to treat it, can have mental-health side-effects. That makes it a little easier to believe that she might have called the police in the absence of any actual violence.
But why should any of this be the business of anyone save the couple? Stephen Goldsmith does not stand accused of any crime. He is no longer a public official. The incident did not take place in New York City, where the Mayor’s influence, or Goldsmith’s powers overseeing the police department, might have been brought to bear to sweep criminal activity under the rug. I’m far from a Bloomberg fan, but it seems to me the Mayor acted with decency, and without any disregard of his public duties, in trying to allow one of his aides to leave without further humiliation for himself or his family.
Yes, there’s a public interest to be served in publicizing the evil of domestic violence. But that does not, it seems to me, justify applying the principle of guilty until proven innocent, even to a Republican. If Goldsmith had insisted on staying in his job, transparency would have demanded that the fact of the arrest be made public. But once he’d decided to quit, his private affairs became, once again, properly private.
As to the demand by Manhattan borough president (and likely mayoral candidate) Scott Stringer for City Council hearings: it’s good to know that New York doesn’t have any real problems, and can afford to waste time investigating imaginary ones.
Full disclosure: We’ve never been close – I hadn’t, for example, known that he’d left the NYC job, or anything about his marital history – but I’ve known Goldsmith since he was the Marion County (Indianapolis) prosecutor and a participant in a series of Kennedy School meetings on the role of prosecution in crime control. In that role, he was smart, thoughtful, and progressive (in the older sense of that term). Still, I’m under no particular personal obligation here; my interest is in the conduct of the press and politicians (and, secondarily, in the wisdom of “mandatory arrest” laws).