Serving up scandal: Can voters stomach Weiner and Spitzer in the same election?
As the dust settles in the wake of Eliot Spitzer’s 11th-hour announcement joining the race for City Comptroller, a larger question hangs over the city’s local politics sphere: can voters stomach the return of not just one but two disgraced politicians in the same election year?
Eliot Spitzer, who held the governorship for just a little over a year before being outed in March 2008 for soliciting prostitutes, threw his hat in the ring late Sunday night, echoing Anthony Weiner’s late-night announcement just a few weeks ago when he launched his campaign for mayor.
Christina Greer, an Associate Professor in the Political Science department at Fordham University came up with three ways this could play out: Spitzer could pull Weiner down, Weiner could elevate Spitzer, or voters could manage to evaluate the two separately.
“It’s a question of whether or not New Yorkers have the mental space to digest both Spitzer and Weiner at the same time,” Greer said.
But Greer noted it may help that they are running for different positions: “We don’t look for the same thing in a mayor and a comptroller,” she said.
“A lot of people don’t know what a comptroller is,” she added.
Spitzer’s announcement yanked the rug out from under Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer who, until Spitzer’s Sunday night bombshell was coasting into the Comptroller’s office unopposed.
“We know that Eliot Spitzer isn’t going to just dip his toe back into the political waters without actually assessing his realistic chances,” Greer said. ”
Mickey Carroll, a Quinnipiac University pollster, said he anticipates Spitzer taking much the same tack that Weiner has thus far.
“My guess is he’s going to run a very wonkish campaign,” Carroll said. “Like ‘yes, this was a bad thing, I misbehaved and I regret it, now let’s talk about the real issues.’”
“You’ll get more numbers and so forth from Spitzer than you can shake a stick at,” Carroll added.
But Greer said that might not be a sustainable approach.
“That’s going to work for the first two days of the story, but at a certain time he’s going to have to formally address it, whether it’s in a sit-down interview with a particular journalist or something else,” Greer said. She said the constant repetition that it’s up to the voters to decide whether they deserve forgiveness is not going to be enough.
“Yeah the voters will decide, yes, thank you for telling me something I don’t know,” she said. “At some point they’ll have to face it head-on.”
Carroll dismissed Stringer’s initial attack on Spitzer, calling him out on funding his campaign with his own money.
“They’re all doing that these days,” he said, noting that Spitzer is facing a significant challenge, as he will need to pay a lot of petition gatherers between now and Thursday to get himself on the ballot at all.
Michael Tobman, a New York-based political consultant who is not working with any of these candidates, agreed that Spitzer’s money source likely won’t be a problem for voters.
“New York City voters have shown their comfort with wealthy candidates funding their own campaigns,” Tobman said.
Vito Lopez: outlier or more of the same?
Vito Lopez is another scandal-scarred politician running for city office: the former Assemblyman, recently forced to step down after a scathing 68-page report detailed sexual harassment allegations from former female staffers, is now running for City Council in Brooklyn.
Tobman said Lopez could not be assessed on the same terms as Weiner and Spitzer in part because his scandal was based in Albany, where scandal and reports of corruption and bribery have been bubbling up for months on end.
“Albany is a matter of culture and lax enforcement and oversight,” Tobman said.
Tobman added that Lopez’s fight is different as well, as he has a strong support base in his Bushwick district.
“Bushwick is a complicated part of a complicated borough,” Tobman said. “Vito is well-regarded in some circles there and he has a very big, forceful personality.”
“So we’ll have to see what the voters say,” Tobman added.
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat