Spitzer may get last laugh, poll suggests

Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer and former New

Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer participate in a primary debate for New York City comptroller in the WCBS-TV studios. (Aug. 22, 2013) (Credit: AP)

Dan Janison

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

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10

bio | email

Even folks in Idaho know -- if only from the biting quips of late-night TV comics -- that this atypical New York City campaign season features comeback bids by two Democrats famously chased from their last public jobs by sex-related scandals.

One of the pair, former Rep. Anthony Weiner, has plummeted in mayoral polls from a purported lead into single digits after the man destined to be forever known as "Carlos Danger" admitted his notorious texting habit didn't end when he quit Congress.

And now the self-funded former Gov. Eliot Spitzer has lost ground, too. An amNY-News 12 poll shows him neck-and-neck against Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer in their party's Sept. 10 primary for comptroller.

Unlike Weiner, however, Spitzer cannot be counted out in this final stretch. The amNY-News 12 poll puts him at 46 percent among likely primary voters versus 43 percent for Stringer and 10 percent undecided -- all with a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Spitzer filed for the election last month at the last possible moment. He broadcasts high-quality TV ads promoting himself as an anti-establishment fighter for the people.

But his populist messages yield mixed results. The new poll numbers reflect one of those instances -- among many -- where white and minority voters collectively view things differently. The erstwhile "Sheriff of Wall Street" pulls heavy majorities among African-Americans and Latinos -- but only 29 percent among whites.

Spitzer-phobes have their own narrative. Beyond the prostitution scandal, Stringer attacks his rival's demeanor and temperament, in tune with a chorus of other elected Democrats, activists and editorial writers. This seems to have had the intended effect of stirring up, or at least buttressing, many likely voters' negative impressions of their ex luv-guv.

Both candidates assert confidence as the nasty combat escalates. Their fight turned more bitter Thursday when a spokeswoman for Spitzer said Stringer hadn't been "man enough" to put his name on an anonymous piece of mudslinging anti-Spitzer literature. Team Stringer shot back: "Nobody in this City needs a lesson in manhood from Eliot Spitzer" who "violated the very laws he strengthened as governor."

Spitzer undoubtedly sees a tactical edge to keep caricaturing Stringer as a go-along, get-along hack. But that effort could backfire if it reinforces the negative image of Spitzer as a snarling, sanctimonious steamroller. Such a mindset could cost Stringer, too -- if he comes off as churlish, as in a recently reported vulgar dis of former Bronx Democratic chairman Jose Rivera, who backs Spitzer.

For voters who may actually focus on what a comptroller does -- conduct audits, track economic forecasts, take part on multiple city pension boards -- the two Democratic rivals emphasize different things. Stringer talks more about auditing city agencies, with Spitzer more riveted on what he calls creative steps to reform the pension funds.

Of course, the subtleties and substance of the comptroller's job will get lost in a race that is secondary to the mayoral contest -- the main event on all ballots.

That's one big reason we're hearing about manhood and prostitutes.

Not to mention the great material it creates for comedians.