It was an all too familiar scene, a set piece that’s played out with metronomic regularity in American politics.
The elected official — this time the governor of New York — stands at a lectern, apologizing for a sexual indiscretion. The stoic wife, her face a mask, stands just off to his side. The viewers watch in morbid fascination, wondering how this wronged woman can appear to support her cheating rat of a spouse.
“It’s very easy for people on the outside to criticize and say, ‘I wouldn’t have been there. Why is she there? He disgraced her,’ ” Dina Matos told TODAY’s Matt Lauer on Tuesday in New York.
Three years ago, when she was the wife of then-New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, Matos was playing the role of stoic wife. She understands what the wife of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer must be going through now that he’s been linked to a prostitution scandal.
“But you don’t know what the marriage is like,” Matos continued. “You don’t know what their relationship is like. They’ve been married over 20 years. I’m sure they have a long history together. There’s love there. There’s obviously now betrayal.”
It was in August 2004 that Matos stood by her man, staring in apparent disbelief as he told the nation that he was a “gay American” and had engaged in an affair with a male member of his staff.
And now she was watching it happen again, as another political wife, Silda Spitzer, stood by her husband he apologized for his sins, without specifically mentioning the prostitution ring to which federal prosecutors had connected him.
“She’s doing what’s right for her,” Matos said of Silda Spitzer. “We have to remember that this is a real person. Her husband is a politician, but this is a real woman who’s experiencing some very, very, very painful times and having to deal with three teenage daughters.”
Matos said that for her, the decision to offer support to a husband in disgrace was made because of their own daughter, Jacqueline, who was just closing in on her third birthday at the time.
“It’s a very personal matter,” Matos told Lauer. “For me, I thought about my daughter. This was a man that I loved, whom I had taken a vow to stand by in good times and in bad, and that was the right decision for me at the time. It was very personal. It was not about the politics.”
She said that she still believes she did the right thing — for her and her daughter. Some day, she said, “My daughter probably would thank me and acknowledge that I was there for her father.”
Matos emphasized that she was speaking for herself. “I don’t know what’s going through her mind,” she said of Silda Spitzer. “But I’m sure that her family certainly played a role in the decision, her role as a mom to protect her daughters, to do whatever it takes to try to keep the family together, at least to have some semblance of normalcy.”
The Spitzers have three teenage daughters, ages 13, 15 and 18, and Matos said she couldn’t conceive of what it is like for them and their mother.
“I can’t even imagine,” she said “For her as a mother, she’s trying to protect these three young girls, from the public, from the rumors, the innuendo. It has to be very, very difficult. Here she is dealing with her own pain, but also trying to protect her children.”
What Matos could imagine was the emotional trauma Silda Spitzer must have felt on Monday as she listened to her husband attempt to apologize for a sin that the American public has rarely found forgivable.
“My heart ached for her when I was watching her,” Matos said. “I could see the pain in her face, and I certainly know what that feels like. She’s there physically, but I’m sure she’s not absorbing anything that’s going on.”
“It’s almost like an out-of-body experience,” the former Mrs. McGreevey continued. “You’re there physically, but your mind is elsewhere. You can’t even think.”