Disgraced former New York governor Eliot Spitzer formalized his long-planned political comeback Sunday night by telling the New York Times that he will seek the New York City Comptroller’s office this fall.
That Spitzer is running for office again isn’t terribly surprising. He clearly regretted his decision to resign as Empire State governor in March 2008 amid revelations that he had taken part in a high-priced prostitution ring. And as soon as 2009, Spitzer made clear he wanted to return to politics.
Political creatures — and Spitzer is one through and through — find a way back into politics. The question for Spitzer, as it was for fellow disgraced politician Anthony Weiner, was when — not if — he would run again. And now Spitzer and Weiner, who is running for mayor, will appear on the same primary ballot this fall. (Before you make too many “Spitzer = Weiner” observations, read this piece by Ben Smith on how the two men are nothing alike.)
The real question as it relates to Spitzer is whether he can win. The answer, according to interviews with a handful of New York City political consultant types, is quite clearly “yes.”
“He wants back into public life and this is the first real opportunity,” explained Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant based in New York. “He can win because he has a name, dough, and looks like the expert in a financial position.”
Prior to the Spitzer announcement, the race was seen as a sure thing for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Stringer, who opted for the comptroller race after publicly mulling a run for mayor, has the backing of much of the NYC political establishment; in the wake of the Spitzer news, a number of mayoral hopefuls including New York City Council Speaker Chris Quinn and NYC Public Advocate Bill de Blasio affirmed their support for Stringer’s candidacy.
That establishment backing will play right into Spitzer’s hands, according to a longtime New York political hand. “He will run as the scourge of Wall Street and as an outsider with real accomplishments and try to paint Stringer as a hack with few accomplishments,” said the source. “Yes, he can win.”
The other factor in the race that works in Spitzer’s favor is his personal wealth. (Spitzer’s father, a real estate magnate, is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.) Stringer has a massive fundraising head start — he has raised better than $2.7 million — and Spitzer would struggle to catch up (or even come close) under the city’s public financing system. But Spitzer made clear to the Times on Sunday night that he would opt out of that system and instead finance the campaign largely from his own checkbook.
Spitzer’s ability to self-fund coupled with his name identification (not all of it good, of course) and his likely message — no one owns me — could make for a powerful combination in a city that has already made clear (as Weiner’s rising poll numbers suggest) that it believes in political second chances.
Spitzer’s bid will not be without challenges, the most immediate of which is collecting nearly valid 4,000 signatures by Thursday, which is no small feat.
But if Spitzer wins — and no one we talked to was willing to predict victory outright — his stated plan to take an aggressive approach to the comptroller’s office suggested to some in the city that he has his eye on the mayor’s office in 2017.
“The [comptroller] position is powerful and a springboard to the mayoralty in ’17,” mused one seasoned New York operative. “And he clearly has not gotten elected office out of his system.”
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