Gotham Gazette

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Gotham Votes 2013

Election Roundup: Spitzer Hogs All The Attention


A sweaty, grinning, energized Eliot Spitzer made his first public appearance in Union Square as a candidate for comptroller and was immediately swamped by reporters and heckled by New Yorkers.

Unsurprisingly, his mere reappearance yesterday as a political force sucked all the attention away from the other candidates in the city’s election. He grabbed front pages and was the talk of blogs and news websites.

The former governor, whose political career ended in a prostitution scandal in 2008, brought back his brash style of politics to the streets of New York as the city’s political elite responded with dismay.

The surprise decision by former Governor Spitzer to run for citywide office startled and galvanized the city’s political establishment, which worried aloud about handing the TV-savvy and self-financed candidate a new megaphone.

In candid conversations, some of the leaders expressed acute regret over their failure to swiftly undercut the mayoral campaign of former Representative Anthony D. Weiner, another scandal-scarred candidate for citywide office, and said they would not make the same mistake twice.—The New York Times. 

While no one seemed to question his ability to be the city’s financial chief, they did question whether Spitzer was pursuing the office for personal gain rather than his stated goal of getting back into public service.

"So we will have a far-left politician seeking glory and political advancement looking to make as many waves as possible," wrote Greg David, of Crain’s New York Business, in an editorial headlined “Save us from Comptroller Spitzer."

Others wondered what Spitzer (once known as the “Sheriff of Wall Street") could do with the powers of the office of comptroller — which he said he would strengthen as a watchdog over public policy.

New York Magazine writes under the headline "How Comptroller Eliot Spitzer Could Be a Nightmare for Wall Street and New York’s Next Mayor":

What is Spitzer planning? Well, as comptroller, he would have oversight of the city’s five public pension funds, which hold the retirement money of teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public employees. They’re big piles of money — about $140 billion in total — and managing them would give Spitzer the ability to be a huge pain in the ass for anyone else hoping to get a piece of the pension pie.

As for the other candidates for comptroller? Well, the Democratic frontrunner who had gone unchallenged until Spitzer’s re-emergence, Scott Stringer, signaled he would play to his strengths in his response to the threat: marshaling the organization of his union supporters, his wife and progressives.

A Republican candidate for comptroller, John Burnett, said he welcomed the challenge while chiding Spitzer for his past behavior.

Kristin Davis, aka the Manhattan Madam who claimed to have supplied Spitzer with prostitutes, announced she would run for comptroller, too. “Bring it on,” she told Politicker.

With all this intrigue, some welcomed the energy that Spitzer’s candidacy would bring to the race. The New Yorker’s John Cassidy wrote:

He’s done a good deed for me and all the other writers covering this year’s mayoral elections, turning an obscure fight on the undercard into a bizarre three-sided slugfest involving a disgraced ex-governor, the ex-madam who says she supplied him with hookers (Kristin Davis), and the experienced but little-known Borough President Scott Stringer. Who’s going to miss that televised debate? Not I.

While still others wondered why scandal-plagued former politicians keep returning to the public sphere. Politico writes of Weiner and Spitzer:

Their comebacks come embedded in claims of contrition and deep self-reflection, but their fundamental personalities — driven, flamboyant, possessed at least on the outside of exceedingly high self-regard — seem basically unchanged. This has led many people to believe that the emotional makeup that drives their comebacks is very similar to what drove their scandals.

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