Five years after scandal, Eliot Spitzer announces new run for office in New York

Eliot Spitzer, who resigned as New York governor five years ago in a prostitution scandal, is running for comptroller of New York City:

The Democrat will begin collecting signatures for the campaign this week, spokeswoman Lisa Linden said. The deadline is Thursday.

“He’s throwing his hat in the ring,” Linden said.

Spitzer confirmed his plans in an interview with the New York Times, which first reported that he would run.

Spitzer becomes the second scandal-tarred New York politico to seek office in the Big Apple this year. Former congressman Anthony Weiner (D), who resigned after his own scandal, is running for mayor and has made progress early in his campaign. And earlier this year, former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford (R) won a congressional seat four years after an affair derailed his political career.

The current comptroller, John Liu (D), is also running for mayor, creating an opening for that office. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is currently the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, but Spitzer’s entry could quickly change that . . .

In March 2008, it was reported that Spitzer used a high-end prostitution service called the Emperors Club VIP. Spitzer was initially identified as an anonymous client caught on a federal wiretap arranging a rendezvous with a woman in Washington, D.C.

Spitzer did not face criminal charges after federal authorities determined he didn’t use public or campaign money to pay the women.

In order to qualify for the primary ballot, Spitzer will need to gather 3,750 valid signatures by the Thursday deadline. The primary will be held in September.

Aaron Blake

Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer is running for New York City comptroller. He spoke about his campaign on CBS.

The former governor acknowledged this morning that many people might see his past actions as hypocritical:

Spitzer was busted in 2008 for having patronized a high-end prostitution service, but as a public official he increased penalties for people seeking the services of prostitutes — “johns.”

Asked about that dichotomy on WNYC on Monday morning, host Brian Lehrer noted some have labeled Spitzer a “hypocrite on a policy level” — not just someone with personal foibles.

“It’s a fair argument. Without wading back into that, we enforced the law when I was attorney general, we enforced it when I was governor. We passed laws that I believe were fair and appropriate,” Spitzer said, adding: “I do not disagree with the arguments that have been made. I’ve never asked that they be disregarded.”

Spitzer is currently collecting signatures for his campaign and said he was hitting the streets after the interview to do just that.

Aaron Blake

The Fix argues that Spitzer has a good chance of winning the race:

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.

Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan

Jonathan Capehart argues that Spitzer has made the right decision in asking voters to look past his mistakes:

Voters should have the opportunity to determine whether they want his smarts and talent as the Big Apple’s chief bookkeeper. That’s not to say that the other seeker of the job, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, is incapable or unworthy. It just means that there’s a real race for the No. 3 position in New York City.

I know Spitzer did a horrible thing. Horrible vis-a-vis the law, the voters and his family. Patronizing a prostitution ring while governor of New York was morally wrong — and illegal. And to talk to Spitzer about the spectacular implosion of his political career, as I did a few years ago, is to talk to a man haunted by what could have been.

Spitzer is a smart man. His aggressiveness in going after the excesses of the financial industry as the “sheriff of Wall Street” when he was New York state attorney general proved prescient, given the industry’s role in the global economic collapse in 2008. During 14 months in Albany, Spitzer brought that same vigor to the governor’s office. But hubris was his undoing.

Jonathan Capehart

See a timeline of past political sex scandals here.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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