Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer is mobbed by reporters as he attempts… (Andrew Burton / Getty Images )
NEW YORK -- Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, once dubbed the “Sheriff of Wall Street” for his pursuit of crooked financiers and later known as “Client 9” for his pursuit of high-priced prostitutes, relaunched his political career Monday, after announcing plans to run for New York City comptroller.
Spitzer, who was forced to resign the governor’s post in March 2008 after his patronization of a prostitution ring was revealed, is facing a tight deadline: He has until Thursday to gather 3,750 signatures to get his name on the ballot for the September primary.
“It’s going to be a tough burden,” Spitzer, 54, told WNYC radio before heading into the steamy streets of Manhattan to begin shaking hands and drumming up support.
Assuming he gathers enough signatures to get on the ballot, Spitzer will provide another scandalous twist to the upcoming elections for city offices. Former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, who was forced to resign his congressional seat in 2011 after he was caught in a series of lurid online relationships with women, has entered the mayor’s race.
Stranger still, one of those vying for the comptroller’s seat is Kristin M. Davis, who was dubbed the "Manhattan Madam" for running the prostitution ring that Spitzer frequented while he was governor.
Davis, running as a Libertarian, spent four months in prison for her role managing the call girl ring. The front-runner in the race has long been Scott Stringer, the Democratic Manhattan borough president.
In a statement Sunday, Stringer’s campaign manager, Sascha Owen, took a shot at the wealthy Spitzer, who plans to use personal funds to pay for his race. “Eliot Spitzer is going to spurn the campaign finance program to try and buy personal redemption with his family fortune,” Owen said in a statement. “The voters will decide.”
While the office he seeks is not glamorous or high-profile, Spitzer says he is well-suited to it, because its duties include auditing public policies to ensure their effectiveness and overseeing the city’s spending.
Spitzer, a Democrat, was New York state’s attorney general from 1998 until his election as governor in 2006 and made a name for himself by cracking down on white-collar crime and corruption. Since his resignation from the governor’s office, he has worked as a pundit on cable television, including CNN and Current TV.
“As a former governor and attorney general, I believe I have the right record to continue fighting for the people of #NYC as comptroller,” Spitzer tweeted late Sunday, after disclosing his candidacy in a series of media interviews. “I have looked at this race and decided that now is not the time to sit on the sidelines,” Spitzer added.
In interviews and in a public appearance Monday in Manhattan’s Union Square, Spitzer said he was seeking forgiveness from voters, even as he acknowledged that his candidacy would dredge up his sordid past. Voters, at least initially, offered mixed reviews.
"There are a lot of scandalous politicians running for office suddenly. I wonder what people are going to think of New York," Sharon Chen said as she watched Spitzer emerge from a Manhattan subway station to begin shaking constituents' hands. "I think it's fine," she added when asked her opinion of the former governor's candidacy.
Many of those watching him work the crowd in Union Square noted that New York City is famously forgiving of its politicians. Several mentioned Weiner, who according to some polls is tied for first place among Democratic mayoral candidates with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
“I’m not going to give him a minus,” said Sue Rippert, adding that she liked Spitzer’s politics and was more inclined to forgive him than Weiner. “When he was in office, I didn’t feel very strongly about him,” she said of Weiner. “I think Spitzer has a backbone. I don’t think that about Weiner.”
Jim Wallace, who was walking with Rippert, agreed. “I’m willing to give him a second chance,” he said of Spitzer. “He has the best interests of New York in mind.”
“I’m indifferent,” said one young man as he took a picture of the crowd of media crushing around Spitzer. “I just came out here to see the freak show.”
Also embracing the freak show were the city's tabloids, now facing the rapturous prospect of two scandal-tarnished former politicians seeking redemption simultaneously.
“Here we ho again!” the New York Post blared across its front page Monday, in a sign of the scrutiny Spitzer may face.
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