Mayflower Madam Sydney Biddle Barrows has quit the call-girl business and says the prosecutors investigating the ring that ensnared New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer should do the same.
"These people have nothing better to do?" Ms. Barrows asked. "We have terrorists out there. We have murderers, we have rapists, child molesters. And they're worried about somebody getting [sex]?"
Ms. Barrows operated Cachet, a high-priced prostitution ring in New York until 1984, when the district attorney's office arrested her. When the tabloids discovered that she was a descendant of a blue-blood family and listed in the social register, Ms. Barrows became a crime celebrity.
Mr. Spitzer operated a high-profile prosecution ring known as the Attorney General's Office of the State of New York. He became famous for busting Wall Street corruption and, in 2004, an 18-member prostitution ring. His story gave reform-hungry voters hope, and Mr. Spitzer became governor.
Yesterday's revelations, that the man known back home as Governor was known to prosecutors as "Client 9" of the Emperors Club VIP escort service, could land the former crusader with yet another title: former governor.
Ms. Barrows is outraged. "Who has this man hurt? Who has this man hurt? This man has hurt nobody," she said.
The author of several books, including one about "etiquette for consenting adults," Ms. Barrows marveled yesterday at the unfolding scandal -- she learned of it from this reporter's phone call -- and philosophized on sexual ethics, at least her version of them.
Her thesis: random sex is less hurtful.
"Who are we to pass judgment on other people?" she said. "For instance, if he'd gone and had a girlfriend, now that's a relationship. That is something that is truly a threat to a marriage. A relationship would be the worst thing for him to do morally, but he would be in less trouble for that."
Not that she would have approved of either random or relationship cheating by her own husband back when she had one.
"Would I want my husband cheating on me? No. But I would rather he do it that way," she said.
Emperors Club VIP advertised various rates on its Web site, with costs reaching as high as $5,500 for special customers.
Ms. Barrows, whose own service averaged charges somewhere around $200 an hour, scoffed at that price, calling it exaggerated.
In fact, the FBI complaint against Emperors Club suggested that Mr. Spitzer -- if he turns out to be Client No. 9 -- shelled out roughly $4,300 for a New York-to-Washington trip by an escort called "Kristen."
An FBI affidavit puts the date of that transaction around Feb. 13 -- less than a month ago, and four years after Mr. Spitzer indicted the operators of Big Apple Oriental Tours on charges that they ran sex tours to Asia.
The tours, he said at the time, "led to the systematic exploitation and suppression of young women."
In 2004, Mr. Spitzer's office charged 18 people in connection with a prostitution ring operating on Staten Island.
Ms. Barrows had mixed feelings on the question of hypocrisy. Some of the rings, she said, deserve to be broken up and scattered to the winds.
"There are some very, very bad prostitution rings out there. They take advantage of young girls and traffic girls. They bring these poor people in from out of the country," she said.
"If that's what he did, then I give him a big hand, because those people deserve to be put away."
Or, as Ms. Barrows put it: "All stores aren't Bergdorf Goodman; all stores aren't Wal-Mart."
Correction/Clarification: (Published Mar. 12, 2008) As New York attorney general, Eliot Spitzer famously busted an 18-member Staten Island prostitution ring in 2004. The year was given incorrectly in this story on the Mayflower Madam, Sidney Biddle Barrows, as originally published Mar. 11, 2008.
Dennis B. Roddy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1965.