Saying his skin is as “thick as a rhinoceros,” former governor and attorney general Eliot Spitzer is taking a page from Anthony Weiner’s book and seeking a post-scandal return to politics, but after a substantially longer absence from elected office.
Spitzer told a huge crowd of reporters at Union Square Park Monday afternoon that in his bid for city comptroller he was prepared to face more jokes, tabloid headlines and public ostracism based on the prostitution scandal that drove him from office in disgrace five years ago, with his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, standing awkwardly beside him.
“I’ve seen the tallest peaks in politics and I’ve seen the deepest valleys,” he said. “The peaks are more fun, but you learn more from the valleys.”
Spitzer, who has until Thursday night to gather 3,750 valid signatures to get on the Democrat primary ballot, presented himself as ahead of the curve on major policy topics, citing his early support for gay marriage and immigration reform as a candidate as far back as 1998, when he was elected attorney general in a tight race.
“I didn’t do polling, I took a position,” Spitzer said. “Whether you agreed with me or disagreed with me, I took positions.”
Spitzer sent out a press advisory Monday that he would gather signatures and greet voters, but the event turned into a media circus, with dozens of news cameras surrounding him, while Joey Bassolino, aka Joey Boots, a personality associated with the Howard Stern Show on Sirius Radio shouted that Spitzer was a disgrace who betrayed his wife and used his father’s money to have have sex with prostitutes.
However, several people worked their way through the crowd to offer encouragement.
“God bless you, you’re gonna make it,” said Carmen Gobin, who said she is a member of Grace Evangelistic Ministries Church and lives in Springfield Gardens, Queens. “Nobody is perfect,” she said, shaking Spitzer’s hand. “God will raise you back up.”
Spitzer resigned in 2008, in just his second year in the governor’s mansion, after the New York Times revealed that he had patronized a high-end prostitution ring. No criminal charges were brought against him. Spitzer did not keep a low profile after the scandal, teaching college courses and appearing on cable TV programs, but seemed to have closed the door on politics.
In an October, 2011 interview with The Jewish Week, Spitzer said “People are very kind and they raise it. I’m flattered. … I loved it, did it for a fair number of years, but now I’m [moving] on to other stuff.”
The resurgence of former congressman Weiner’s political career, however — entering the Democratic primary for mayor at second place last month and then surging to frontrunner with an aggressive campaign style — may have given Spitzer second thoughts. Weiner quit the House of Representatives in June, 2011.
Asked by The Jewish Week Monday how Weiner affected his decision, Spitzer said “Virtually not at all. I knew that New Yorkers, as good souls, have a sense of forgiveness, but whether that forgiveness extends to me is a separate issue. That’s why I draw no logical nexus between him and anybody else or me. This is a question of how you present yourself and what I have done. I’m proud of my record.”
Spitzer insisted it was a coincidence that his campaign coincides with the release of a new book about his battles to better regulate Wall Street as attorney general, due out July 16.
“I want to move on, I want to serve; I want to ask forgiveness and present the public with an opportunity for this office to do more,” he said of his vision to expand the duties of the chief fiscal watchdog to more closely scrutinize city agencies.
He declined, however, to specifically address how he had changed his persona during his leave from public office. “I’m not going to get into that sort of self-critique. Anybody who has been through what I have and had five years to reflect would change to a certain extent. If they didn’t, something would be a little bit odd.”
Asked if the notoriety of the scandal gave his late campaign a boost, he said “This is part of how you get your message out.” He said he hoped to participate in “more sedate moments” in debates, and declined to criticize his potential primary opponent, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
Spitzer also said his wife would campaign with him, but hadn’t come Monday because the couple didn’t expect the event to generate such extensive media coverage.
Spitzer will finance his own campaign from his personal fortune as part of his father’s real estate empire. He said he could not participate in the city’s Campaign Finance system because “I haven’t been out raising money for the last nine months and there’s no way I can raise the money in the next three weeks and get the matching funds to make it work.”
As Spitzer tried to break away from the scrum of reporters to meet voters and ask for their signatures, several people expressed encouragement.
Andrew Fine, 45, a real estate broker from the Upper East Side, signed Spitzer’s petition and later told reporters Spitzer “deserves a chance. Let the people sort it out. I think the more choices you have in a democracy, the better.
Al Peters, 70, an artist and teacher who lives near Union Square said Spitzer should run for mayor instead of comptroller. “I like him,” he said. “I always liked him. He made a mistake and that’s just human, but he deserves a second chance. I was always impressed by honesty in terms of the policies.”
Cleonie Sinclair of Prospect Heights said “he was a wonderful attorney general. I have to move on. I can not hold this against him. It’s been five years, I have to forgive.”
Andrew Fine, who was the first to sign Spitzer’s petition Monday, said that in his view Spitzer is more competent than Weiner.
“Both these guys cheated on their wives,” Fine said. “But Weiner proved himself completely inept to social media. So if he can’t handle a Twitter account, I’m afraid of what he might do as mayor.”