Comptroller race brings state politics to NYC

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, left, and former

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, left, and former Governor Eliot Spitzer participate in the first primary debate for New York City Comptroller in the WABC/Channel 7 studios in New York, N.Y. (Aug. 9, 2013) (Credit: James Keivom)

Dan Janison

Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison, Dan Janison

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10

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The once-in-a-lifetime spectacle of a former governor chasing a lesser New York City office has breached the traditional line between state and municipal politics.

The New York City comptroller debate televised Sunday between Eliot Spitzer and rival Democrat Scott Stringer gave a taste of the 2010 statewide re-election campaign we might have seen if Spitzer's hooker habit hadn't dislodged him from office two years earlier.

The Spitzer we knew before he was privatized showed up for the debate. He boasted of accomplishment. He was ideologically unrepentant. He fended off attacks from his rival with such Spitzerian coinage as "misstatements of a grandiose magnitude" and "shatter the patina." He condemned Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, with the harshest characterization a reform zealot can deploy: as collegial agent of the status quo.

Given his unusual circumstance, Stringer -- a shoo-in turned underdog by Spitzer's late entry -- sought to politically prosecute Spitzer for his year and three months as governor. Spitzer, given his prior eight years as a crusading, finger-pointing, populist-sounding attorney general, hit back.

Troopergate -- the tempest over Spitzer's offensive against former State Senate GOP Majority Leader Joseph Bruno -- was raised. Spitzer denied any improper use of State Police to investigate others, as alleged, and said Bruno "was thereafter convicted. He's standing for retrial now."

Spitzer boasted of success in boosting the city's share of school aid, reforming workers' compensation with the legislature, and enacting a budget on time. Stringer said Spitzer left finances in disarray and that "it took a real governor like Andrew Cuomo to straighten out what you did."

In their opposing tales of two Capitols, the candidates in the Sept. 10 primary clashed over Spitzer's bid to let undocumented immigrants apply for drivers' licenses -- which several mayoral hopefuls nowadays support. Spitzer recalled: "The political establishment ran for the hills." Stringer's reply: "You dropped the issue because you couldn't take the heat on it."

When Spitzer said his time as attorney general showed how he can fight Wall Street, Stringer snapped: "Maybe you should go run for attorney general and lose to Eric Schneiderman." And in a familiar theme, Spitzer dismissed Stringer's 12 years "in the most dysfunctional Assembly in the nation." Stringer blasted Spitzer for rejecting campaign funding limits after proposing them in Albany.

Hear that? It's the sound of Albany wars, spread to a downstate battlefield.