The former governor walks through Union Square to collect signatures for his run for New York City comptroller on Monday, July 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Eliot Spitzer is a walking, talking political contradiction.
As the crusading New York State Attorney General during the Bush-Cheney years, he filled the regulatory void created by the most business-friendly administration in modern American history and renewed our understanding of the power of state officials to check and balance Wall Street.
Then, as New York’s governor, he crashed and burned his own career—and an opportunity to redefine states as the liberal “laboratories of democracy” that they were in the Progressive Era.
Spitzer’s brilliance and arrogance were in complete conflict as he took the actions that would lead to a 2008 resignation that was described as “career-ending.”
But prostitution, adultery and Twitter scandals don’t end political careers anymore. Just ask Louisiana Senator David Vitter, South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford or New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner.
So Spitzer is back—just as brilliant, and just as arrogant, as ever.
First the smart part: the former governor’s decision to make a last-minute leap into the race for New York City Comptroller is a savvy political move.
It’s the right race: A comeback bid by a political figure who has been involved in so high-profile a scandal as Spitzer’s needs to start in the right place on the ballot. A run for governor or mayor would have demanded more forgiveness than voters were prepared to extend. Spitzer needed to find a post that was prominent, but not too prominent. Seeking a city-wide post in New York is a comedown from the state posts Spitzer held. But the comptroller’s office is an important post in itself and it has produced mayoral candidates and mayors, statewide officials and members of Congress.
It’s the right office: the comptroller’s job has real responsibilities, and they are very much in line with Spitzer’s skills and focus. The comptroller audits the books and the performance of city agencies. The auditor plays a critical role in reviewing and initiating economic activity, especially when it comes to marketing and selling municipal bonds. And most importantly, the comptroller is the managing trustee for massive public employee pension funds; as such, the person who holds the post can carve out a defining position in a host of debates about investment policy and how Wall Street and big banks operate. Spitzer speaks of “using the equity stake that we control as a means of control of corporate governance.” And he talks about using pension funds to apply pressure to corporations on issues ranging from gun control to civil rights. The comptroller’s office has real power, and real resources. Spitzer knows that, and he says, “I want to do to the comptroller’s office what I did to the AG’s office: re-energize it, re-envision it, and hopefully, the public will give me that opportunity.”