Ex-governor Spitzer asks NYC voters to consider record
Eliot Spitzer is surrounded by media as he tries to collect signatures for his run for New York City Comptroller in New York, Monday, July 8, 2013. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who stepped down in 2008 amid a prostitution scandal, says he is planning a political comeback with a run for New York City comptroller.(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer is surrounded by media as he tries to collect signatures for his run for New York City Comptroller in New York, Monday, July 8, 2013. Spitzer, who stepped down in 2008 amid a prostitution scandal, says he is planning a political comeback with a run for New York City comptroller. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer jumped back into the high-profile world of politics yesterday after his decision to run for the New York City comptroller’s office, years after he was caught in a prostitution scandal that culminated in one of politics’ steepest falls from power.
His first public campaign appearance turned into a chaotic scrum of scores of journalists outside a Manhattan subway station, with a heckler and some Spitzer supporters trading shouts as the candidate talked up his record in office – and declined to get into specifics about the scandal that brought his career to a screeching stop.
“What I’m looking for is a chance to be heard. I want the voters to listen to what I’ve done, look at the record that I developed as attorney general, as an assistant district attorney, as governor, and say, ‘This guy understood the public interest,’ ” Spitzer said.
“People have forgiveness in their hearts. Whether that forgiveness extends to me” remains to be seen, he acknowledged before collecting several petition signatures from voters as reporters trailed him through a park and to a taxi.
In a sign of the comedic fodder his candidacy is sure to generate, Spitzer spoke over shouts from Joey Boots, a frequent caller to The Howard Stern Show.
“You betrayed your constituents, your family, your wife. You betrayed everybody,” he yelled in one of his more publishable comments.
Others yelled back with messages of encouragement.
“Everyone makes mistakes,” said Cleonie Sinclair, a medical-records worker in her 50s who said she came across the crowd on her lunch break and stopped to meet Spitzer, who, she thought, was a good governor who deserves a second chance at public office.
Siby Vadakkekara, 36, a merchandising director, wasn’t so sure.
“I don’t know that I would support him,” she said. “I just think that there’s a certain level of ethics that a politician should have. I think he really disappointed a lot of people.”
Returning to public service after more than five years in the political wilderness was difficult for Spitzer, who never hid from the spotlight and even joked about his mistakes on camera and at political events. His wife, Silda, who stood shaken up at Spitzer’s side during his resignation speech, an image that was carried globally, also returned to life in the public eye. She began attending charity fundraisers months after the scandal.
Spitzer does bring his own comeback experience. In 1994, he was trounced while seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general, then drove thousands of miles around the state to visit local political leaders and influential groups en route to winning the office in 1998. He transformed the position and became known as the sheriff of Wall Street, the kind of change he aims to bring to the comptroller’s office.
“I love public service,” Spitzer said in an interview. “This is a great job that has untapped potential, just as I saw the attorney general’s office and said we could do more. I think more can be done as city comptroller.”
He said he would focus on public policy discussions, the city budget and corporate governance, much as he did as attorney general for two terms before he was elected governor in 2006. He wrote a book on improving the governance of corporations, which is due out in a week.
The key to such improvement comes from within, as a major shareholder, Spitzer said. The city pension fund, which the comptroller oversees, is a major investor in many of the world’s biggest companies.
“You can’t regulate or prosecute your way to governing corporations better,” he said yesterday.
He said he would use the city pension’s shareholder stakes to force changes in how corporations operate. He said he will also use the comptroller’s voice “not just for auditing the city budget, but to make sure the politics are working, not just that the paper clips are counted.”
“There is also the oversight role in the budget, which his critically important,” Spitzer said. “We have a lot of tough decisions to make.”
He said he has no plans for office beyond city comptroller.
“I want to focus in doing this job the best I can,” Spitzer said. “Winning this race is going to be tough enough.”
His timeframe alone presents a challenge. Candidates for citywide offices like comptroller have to have 3,750 signatures from registered voters in their party by Thursday.
Spitzer has spoken in the past about the potential for the comptroller’s job to look into corporate misdeeds. Since his resignation, the married father of three has returned to public life as a commentator, with shows on CNN, Current TV and NY1.
He said he’d discussed his potential run with his wife and daughters before deciding over the weekend. Current Comptroller John Liu is running for mayor.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has been the most prominent among the contenders to become New York City’s next fiscal chief. He’s raised more than $3.5 million and spent about $566,000, city campaign finance records show, while his opponents have yet to report any fundraising or spending.
They include Republican John Burnett, who has worked on Wall Street in various finance capacities and just recently declared his candidacy; Green Party candidate Julia Willebrand, a former teacher; and former madam Kristin Davis. Davis once ran three escort services and claims to have provided prostitutes to Spitzer, which hasn’t been proven.
Spitzer carries a lot of baggage from his abbreviated term as governor, including a scandal in which some of his top aides were charged with ethics violations in what became known as “trooper gate.” He also pushed for providing driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally, a bold move for the time that helped turn Democrats statewide against him.
He’s not the only politician who’s looking for a second chance.
Former U.S. representative Anthony Weiner is running for mayor, two years after he left Congress amid a scandal over his tweets.
When asked whether Spitzer was someone he could work with as mayor, he said yes but declined to comment further.
“I am not paying a great deal of attention to the ins and outs of other races,” Weiner said. “I think everyone was surprised, but it hasn’t changed my life at all.”