If you happen to be in Manhattan on Monday, do not miss the Columbus Day parade gliding up Fifth Avenue. It will be a gaudy, joyful affair as always, but it will feature something especially timely. Its grand marshal is a brassy gent who took on Eliot Spitzer when the former New York governor as attorney general was at the height of his reckless powers, publicly slandering private citizens in the hopes of intimidating them into plea bargains while privately employing ladies of delight for what the FBI reported was "unsafe sex," perhaps undertaken at breakneck speed and without a seat belt. Let us pass on; "unsafe sex" does not invite prolonged contemplation in a serious column, and in this column, I am particularly serious. The Columbus Day grand marshal did something uniquely honorable and courageous.
He is Kenneth Langone, a self-made investment banker, venture capitalist and philanthropist. He is a co-founder of Home Depot Inc. Of even greater importance, he is a proud American who did not flinch when Spitzer went after him. He and an associate, Richard Grasso, spent some $70 million defending their good names after Spitzer trashed them. Then, several months after the former attorney general had trashed his own good name, they won. It took four years, but they won.
Those must have been harrowing years, for, though Langone is clearly a spirited and amusing adversary, he was under heavy fire. Back in 2004, Spitzer publicly called Langone, then head of the New York Stock Exchange's compensation committee, "unsavory," "deceptive" and "tainted." To his receptive stenographers in the media, Spitzer then went on to vow that he would put a "stake" through Langone's heart; so when Spitzer is accused of "unsafe sex," it might not be such a laughing matter. Actually, Langone laughed. In The Wall Street Journal, he characterized this threat as a "metaphorical threat" to his "cardiovascular system," as well as "brash talk." Denying he had broken the law as the grandstanding attorney general alleged, Langone went on to demonstrate that there was no case against him.