Friday, January 19, 2007

State's new first lady eases into her job

Newsday MICHAEL ROTHFELD

Silda is going to make a wonderful "First Lady" .....andy

In the first three weeks since she officially became a public figure, Silda Wall has been tending to personal details and pondering how to define herself now, thrust into the most prominent position of her life.After the New Year's Day inauguration of her husband, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Wall spent the end of the winter school break with their three daughters in Manhattan. She began working out the logistics of traveling across the state while maintaining a family. She even served two days of jury duty, after postponing during the busy fall."I got as far as the jury box and the questions, and then was not ultimately selected to sit on the case," Wall, 49, said in an interview at the governor's 39th floor office in midtown. "I would have been willing, and it would have been a fascinating experience. Plus, my daughters are into 'Law & Order.'"

A former corporate lawyer, Wall has done due diligence on the job of first lady, which she calls "first spouse" or "that position." She has talked to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Matilda Cuomo, lunched with Libby Pataki, and chatted with Dan Mulhern, the husband of Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm."I think it is a reflection of each individual and they carve out what they want to of that position," she said. "So part of it is just really getting to learn what the possibilities are and the way to take it forward."Clinton, a strong presence in the White House, flopped by proposing universal health care, but rode her fame into the Senate. Pataki spoke about breast cancer, but garnered headlines for consultant jobs and her Republican-funded maid.Matilda Cuomo, who once worked as a teacher in Elmont, lived and worked at the executive mansion in Albany, leading a make-over of the building and undertaking a fundraising drive to pay for it, with help from philanthropists such as Brooke Astor. She also focused on programs for children.
"Originally I was going to teach, but I felt I should do everything I could to help my husband help the people of New York," Cuomo wrote in an e-mail interview.

Wall, who like Cuomo will not be paid, already has a chief of staff and plans to work out of an office at the State Capitol once a week. She intends to travel back to Manhattan at night to be with Elyssa, 17, Sarabeth, 14, and Jenna, 12.For a decade, she has been the driving force behind Children for Children, a non-profit focused on getting youth engaged in civic life by running charitable programs to help public schools."If we have these young governors, presidents, their wives are now accomplished women in their own right," said Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the League of Women Voters of New York State. "And that's a good role model for our young women."Wall, a North Carolina native who speaks with a slight Southern accent and carries herself with a kind of relaxed grace, has openly expressed her own wariness of her husband's very public career. The privacy she and their girls had even when he was a nationally known attorney general was "a real luxury for us," she said, and that does not exist for the family of a governor."The phone starts ringing the minute that someone is elected ... wanting to know [if the spouse will] come and speak, and come and visit," she said.

For Spitzer, 47, one of Wall's principal roles has always been as a confidante. They met in 1984, the year both graduated from Harvard Law School. "We talk about virtually everything," Spitzer said. "I get home at the end of the day, even outside the office context, and say, 'Look, here's what I've been thinking about.' ... She is a remarkably talented lawyer and smart, inquisitive individual who permits me to clarify my own thinking and also shares her views." Her version was different: "I think sometimes he uses me as a sounding board. Depending on how I respond, he'll go out and do exactly the opposite."She recounted this playfully, and said they work as a team, after the model of her parents and grandparents. They founded Children for Children together in 1996. Last year, campaigning with Spitzer gave her ideas for the economy - such when she saw a businessman in Seneca Falls providing round-the-clock day care and education for employees' children.Wall said she could see herself "showcasing ideas that are exciting, interesting and would perhaps trigger some ideas in other people ... serving as a catalyst to bring attention to different possibilities."The governor described it differently, the way a husband should: "She will be a powerful and effective voice, because she is a very effective one when she communicates."

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