Is New York ready to forgive Eliot Spitzer?

Peter Weber
The WeekJuly 8, 2013
New York City's next comptroller?

The disgraced ex-governor is jumping into the New York City comptroller contest. He's not just an Anthony Weiner wannabe, either

Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) says he's jumping into the race for New York City comptroller. Is America taking this disgraced-politician-bouncing-back thing a little too far?

In some ways, Spitzer's comeback bid is strikingly similar to former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's. Both men's governorships were defined by sexual scandal — Sanford was formally censured after secretly leaving the country for a tryst with his Argentine mistress, Spitzer resigned in 2008 after he was outed for hiring expensive prostitutes — and both have sought political redemption through lower-ranking office. Sanford won his U.S. House race in May.

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Spitzer's late jump into the New York City's comptroller race, however, will mostly be compared with former Rep. Anthony Weiner's (D) late-start New York City mayoral campaign. Weiner hasn't won anything yet — the first hurdle, the Democratic primary, isn't until September — but he's already earned a sort of political absolution by rising to a first-place tie in recent polls against longtime frontrunner Christine Quinn (D).

Before we delve into why Spitzer could win his race, let's look first at why he may not. He has to gather 3,750 valid signatures from registered New York City Democrats by Thursday to get his name on the September primary ballot. Unions and the New York Democratic establishment have already lined up behind his sole primary opponent, Scott Stringer, the well-regarded Manhattan borough president. And then there's the whole prostitution thing. "I'm hopeful there will be forgiveness," Spitzer tells The New York Times. "I am asking for it."

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On the plus side of Sptizer's ledger, says Maggie Haberman at Politico, "if he is able to get on the ballot, is the fact that down-ballot races in the city tend to be won largely on name recognition." Stringer is affable and popular among those who know him, but he's "far from the household name that Spitzer is, and voters don't view the job as important as mayor."

And as far as scandals go, Haberman adds, Spitzer's patronizing of "the world's oldest profession" and quick exit from office may sit better with voters than Weiner's "creepy" Twitter photos, not to mention his subsequent lies about them.

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That's only one difference between the two candidates, says Ben Smith at BuzzFeed. In fact, "Spitzer has basically nothing in common with Weiner, aside from their low body fat, and shared (and lightly observed) Jewish faith."

Weiner is a talented politician who left Congress with no major legislative accomplishments and everything to prove. Spitzer was a major force in American public life for eight years despite having no particular talent for politics.... Spitzer's ordinary sin — any number of politicians have survived prostitution scandals — ended his tenure as governor because his governorship was already going terribly. [BuzzFeed]

Spitzer won the governorship in a landslide, however, because of his brutally effective stint as New York attorney general, a position he used to crack down on Wall Street, even before Wall Street helped push us into deep recession. His nascent pitch to voters, delivered through The New York Times, is that he plans to do with the city comptroller's office "what I did with the attorney general's office.... It is ripe for greater and more exciting use of the office's jurisdiction."

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The comptroller is essentially New York City's fiscal watchdog and auditor, plus the official in charge of the city's public pension funds. As New York Times reporter Nicholas Confessore says:

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— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) July 8, 2013 CNN's Steve Krakauer notes another reason Spitzer has a shot:

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— Steve Krakauer (@SteveKrak) July 8, 2013 The big question for New York City voters, then, is perhaps not whether they can forgive sexual indiscretion, but whether they want a bulldog barking at the mayor's door and Wall Street banks, says BuzzFeed's Smith. And that may work out in Spitzer's favor:

One thing is true: There is more demand than supply right now in the Democratic Party for the sort of outsider, frankly anti-corporate politics embodied by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren — that that turned her into an instant star and one of the party's top fundraisers. And Eliot Spitzer would be one hell of an activist shareholder. [BuzzFeed]

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