03.02.10 2:24 AM ET
Spitzer's Madam Runs for Governor
Kristin Davis, the New York madam who was arrested for running an escort agency during the Eliot Spitzer scandal, says she supplied him with call girls for five years—when he was attorney general and when he was governor of New York.
Now she's campaigning as an independent for his former job and says she looks forward to debating state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo—even though she's been classified as a "sex offender."
While Davis supports gay marriage and legalizing pot, she says regulating prostitution is preferable to decriminalization.
At a press event Monday at the Roosevelt Hotel to announce the Manhattan Madam's candidacy, puzzled mainstream media types mingled with right-wing tricksters, earnest bloggers, and sex industry veterans. Kat, a former pro-domme who prefers to hide her industry past, told me that Davis' campaign for governor had inspired her to come out of the closet—"even though fetish work is a grey area, legally."
After Davis, the second-most infamous person in the room was Republican consultant Roger Stone, who didn't shy away from discussing ex-Gov. Spitzer's legendary socks: "He denies it, but he's lying." (Spitzer, who resigned amid the scandal in March 2008, reportedly kept his socks on while cavorting with prostitutes.) Stone reminded me that, with the exception of Spitzer, Davis never disclosed her clients' names, while other madams, notably Michelle Braun, have violated the privacy of clients like Tiger Woods and the women who work for them. "As a libertarian, I find that troubling," he said.
Shannon, a buxom blonde and almost a clone of the madam, described Spitzer's escort hobby as a welcome distraction from his alleged financial misdeeds. "He was going to be in a lot more trouble for his banking stuff," she said.
In any case, the ex-governor wasn't penalized legally, and there has been talk of him returning to electoral politics—which makes "Kristin Davis for Governor 2010" more appropriate than ever. (No wonder Spitzer's wife, Silda, is reportedly opposed to the idea of him making another run for public office.)
Davis' platform isn't as libertarian as one might expect. While she supports gay marriage and legalizing pot, she says regulating prostitution is preferable to decriminalization. Although she would "settle" for decriminalizing it, her favorite models—Nevada's licensed brothels; Sweden's anti-john laws—are viewed by many as authoritarian. Her stance presents a problem for sex worker activists who want to support her, but she insists it makes fiscal sense: "Taxation of pot and prostitution would bring in about $2.5 billion." She likes the fact that, while buying sex is a crime in Sweden, selling it is not.
"I was in solitary confinement on Rikers Island for four months," she says. "My bail was $2 million—unprecedented for a Class D felony that's punishable by probation." Davis was convicted of promoting prostitution in the third degree. None of her clients—10,000 high-profile names, according to Stone—was charged.
Davis is now considered a sex offender, a common problem for women in the sex industry, and potentially more dangerous than being in solitary. "I have to go to the sex offender unit with 80 men who are pedophiles and serial rapists," she says, referring to the mandated weekly therapy sessions where, she told me, she has been stalked and harassed. "I'm the only woman in a facility with 80 men who are there for Class 3 sex crimes. I'm sitting in this room with sex offenders who tell me how they stalked little children, horrible, atrocious things. They see me and they follow me."
Her attentive communications director, Andrew Miller, is an aide to Stone and also is active in the Tea Party movement. At 26, he looks like one of those reformed street urchins in a Horatio Alger novel, impeccable in a jacket and tie, wearing a black wool newsboy cap. Three years ago, he worked on a campaign to legalize gaming in Ohio.
Davis isn't the first woman in the sex industry to run for political office, nor is she the first convicted felon. In 1986, Norma Jean Almodovar, a former police officer turned call girl who had recently been convicted of pandering, ran for lieutenant governor of California. A Libertarian, Almodovar had been accused of discrediting the LAPD by talking openly about sexual misconduct, corruption, even murder.
Her campaign was part of a strategy. "Theoretically, had I been elected, I could have pardoned myself. I was on probation but I knew I was facing prison. I got 100,000 votes," she recalls. But the strategy was also practical. "The district attorney appealed my sentence, and I went to prison in 1987. Running for office kept me visible while I was incarcerated. I could have died in one of those so-called accidents." This was a reasonable fear, she says, because others had been killed during an investigation of LAPD misconduct. "60 Minutes interviewed me in prison. I did 32 radio interviews from my cell. And that's why I'm alive."
Not all sex workers swing right. In Italy last June, Pia Covre, a longtime prostitutes' rights activist, ran unsuccessfully in the European elections as a member of the Rifondazione Comunista Party. For ecological reasons, Covre ran a paperless campaign, using the Web only, while stressing her commitment to animal rights and the welfare of children.
Many sex workers in Paris are active in the Green Party. In 2008, Thierry Schaffauser was a Green Party candidate in the 16th arrondissement, which includes the Bois de Boulogne, a well-known prostitution stroll.
"We had no chance to win," he says, "but we got 2 percent, and I was the first to say on a campaign poster that I am a sex worker. We fought for the right to say 'sex worker' instead of 'prostituted person'—and we won." His intention was very specific, he says: "to change policy within the Green Party on sex work." The results are unclear, "but we are gaining support and now the party members who are opposed to sex workers may be reluctant to force the issue because they don't want to split the party."
Brazilian émigré Camille Cabral was a Green Party council member in the 17th arrondissement for seven years. In 2001, when she was first elected, she was also the first openly transsexual councilor in Paris. Later, Cabral broke another barrier by coming out as a sex worker.
What do these European lefties have in common with a libertarian like Kristin Davis—aside from commercial sex? Like most sex workers who run for office, she has a point to make, but these quixotic campaigns are also the basis for something tangible.
In 2008, on the night Barack Obama was elected president, a ballot initiative to decriminalize prostitution in San Francisco made history. Proposition K secured 41 percent of all votes—and gave a lot of people all over the U.S., beyond San Francisco, a reason to continue their activism. While the sex workers who campaigned for Prop K didn't "win," they made democracy newly meaningful.
Davis—in her own quirky way—joins that tradition. Let's wish her well.
Tracy Quan's latest novel is Diary of a Jetsetting Call Girl, set in Provence and praised in The Nation as a "deft account of occupational rigors and anxieties before the crash." Tracy's debut, Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl, and the sequel, Diary of a Married Call Girl, are international bestsellers. A regular columnist for The Guardian, she has written for many publications including Cosmopolitan, The Financial Times, and The New York Times.