Comptroller candidate Eliot Spitzer, until quite recently appearing from polls to be the clear frontrunner in the race, seems to be losing ground in the last few days before the primary.
The latest poll puts him and his opponent, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, neck-and-neck.
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Spitzer's lead was originally attributed largely to name recognition — everyone knows the man who went from fierce, well-respected attorney general to disgraced governor, resigning after being outed in a prostitution scandal.
Reports now indicate that Spitzer's strength lies in his popularity among black voters — something former Gov. David Paterson, who has endorsed Spitzer's opponent, warned would be a consequence of negative attacks on Spitzer, suggesting that black voters tend to be drawn to candidates perceived to be under attack.
But Spitzer's opponent, Stringer, has the support of some of the city's most prominent black and Latino figures, including Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, also a Bronx Democrat. Diaz was part of the leadership in the black and Latino caucus as an assemblyman, and he and several other political leaders recorded robo calls for Stringer recently, taking care not to attack Spitzer, but instead to tout Stringer's record.
The last-minute push was reportedly motivated by serious concerns at the possibility of a Comptroller Spitzer — a concern Senator Rivera said was based largely on Spitzer's inability to deliver as governor.
"He was an utter disappointment on day one," Rivera said. "I gotta say that he was a disappointment then and that he's being a little disingenuous about what his record actually is."
A 2010 Time magazine profile about a year and a half after his resignation described Spitzer as "a rocket powered by ambition and hubris," and it is this hubris that Rivera and many of Stringer's endorsers cite as a concern — the worry is that Spitzer lacks the "political diplomacy" that the comptroller position calls for, according to the National Organization for Women's New York City chapter president Sonia Ossorio.
Rivera pointed to Spitzer's failed proposal for driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, which Spitzer abandoned after discovering opposition to the proposal would have killed it.
Rivera argued that didn't necessarily have to be the case — had Spitzer just done a little work behind the scenes before going public with the proposal "without a comprehensive strategy for how to get it passed."
Rivera pointed to an apparent hunger for glory and go-it-alone approach that he said has been proven to be politically ineffectual, and questioned Spitzer's interest in the office of the comptroller.
"Apparently, he's bored," he said.
Indeed, the Time profile described Spitzer as "bored out of his mind" and "desperate to get back into the arena."
Time quoted Spitzer as saying, "When you have nothing to do all day, you eventually start yelling from the rafters."
"You or I might pick up a book, or I might play video games," Rivera said. "Apparently, he's wealthy enough to just say, 'I'm going to run for office.'"
This is another criticism leveled against the man who prides himself on his antagonistic relationship with "the establishment" and Wall Street: He has, in funding his own campaign, shown disregard for campaign finance rules that serve a similar purpose in elections as the regulations he, as "Sheriff of Wall Street," pushes for in the finance world.
Speculations cited in the Time piece suggested that Spitzer might run for senator or mayor, or possibly state comptroller. No mention was made of city comptroller, bolstering suspicion that the city-level position is for him, as Ossorio noted, "simply ... a stepping stone."
Rivera worried this reflects a lack of understanding of "the seriousness of the job of comptroller."
"Ultimately, what you need in the Comptroller's Office is not someone looking to get back into the public eye," he said. "The job of comptroller is about being the steward of our pensions of hundreds of thousands of city workers."
Former State Comptroller Carl McCall also questioned Spitzer's genuine interest in the specific position of comptroller, and dismissed the notion that Spitzer's "Sheriff of Wall Street" reputation is relevant to his run for city comptroller.
"That's not his job, to regulate Wall Street," McCall said. "Certainly, we need regulation, but that's not the comptroller's job."
McCall expressed concern that Spitzer is motivated by a desire for "personal redemption or forgiveness."
"The pension fund for the city of New York is very important," McCall said. "This is a very difficult time for investments."
In the Time story, the writer, a former Wall Street analyst who admired Spitzer and defended him to colleagues "who ranted that he was motivated only by political ambition," tells Spitzer of his crushing disappointment "to learn that Spitzer was the world's biggest hypocrite, that he'd thrown it all way to frequent prostitutes."
Spitzer reportedly responded tearfully: "At one point, I stood for something that was important and useful. I was in a place in time where I had a purpose, where it mattered. And then I destroyed it."
But McCall stayed away from the criticism Spitzer has received about having good judgment in light of his resignation in disgrace when he was outed for soliciting prostitutes.
"Let's forgive him," he said genially. "But that doesn't mean we have to vote for him."
Spitzer declined to be interviewed for this story.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A COMPTROLLER ELIOT SPITZER
- Spitzer has said he will using existing public housing funds to complete security camera installation and resolve outstanding repair requests in New York City Housing Authority buildings. He also said he would monitor NYCHA activity and review lease deals the authority has.
- As comptroller, Spitzer said he would help minority and women-owned businesses compete for city contracts and increase the number of bonds underwritten by such enterprises.
- Spitzer plans to frequently audit the Department of Education budget, facilitate contract negotiation with the United Federation of Teachers and encourage competitive bidding for DOE contracts. He has also said he would audit funds spend on standardized testing and test-prep programs.
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat