The fudge factor in Spitzer, Weiner comebacks

Hoping to run for New York City comptroller, Hoping to run for New York City comptroller, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer went to Manhattan's Union Square to collect signatures on petitions to land him on the ballot. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (July 8, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10 years, much of which was spent as a ...

Readers, listeners and viewers beware. Fudge phrases are flying in the season's political "comeback" stories that can deceive the less than vigilant.

Here is former Gov. Eliot Spitzer selling his run for city comptroller as bucking the "political establishment" -- an idea parroted by some news media and pundits.

Such talk reflects his outreach to voters looking for independence. Careful, though. "Political establishment" is one of those terms, like "special interest," that mean different things to different people.

For a short time, as governor, Spitzer was the state's political establishment, or at least its leading member. He won the state house in a landslide with most Democratic Party leaders behind him. He collected and spent huge sums of campaign cash contributed by stakeholders ranging from labor unions to Albany lobbyists to real estate moguls, hedge funds and wealthy individuals. He headed the state party and led it into battle against the Senate Republicans. He wielded clout and bragged of it.

Once governor, he even seemed to soften a bit on Wall Street, his old nemesis as attorney general. Three weeks after he was sworn in to the top job, in January 2007, Spitzer appeared at a news conference with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Charles Schumer to release a report that in part criticized overregulation of securities firms.

For now, there's serious question whether various unions, financiers and party leaders bent on opposing Spitzer's comeback form an "establishment" -- or just an assortment of players, individuals and organizations that are not always allied.

Which brings us to another fuzz phrase of the season -- "second chance," a Weiner favorite. What fair-minded person wants to stubbornly deny a second chance to someone who has admitted fault? But it's a less than accurate name for what Weiner's campaign is about.

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He's not seeking a second chance in Congress, where he spent a lot of time trying to run for mayor -- but is in fact already getting an additional chance to move many rungs up the political ladder.

After losing a bid for the Democratic mayoral nomination in 2005, Weiner raised more than $4 million to run again in 2009. But he bowed out after Bloomberg, with bottomless resources, got himself exempted from the two-term limit and ran again as the GOP-Independence favorite. Now Weiner needs to use, or lose, those funds under city campaign finance rules.

When it comes to the mayoralty, this is really Weiner's third chance -- which only exists because he balked at his second one.

Also crying out for a linguistic reality check is Spitzer's appeal for "forgiveness." If his wife and daughters forgive him for his prostitution habit and the embarrassment it caused, well, that's good for him personally.

But is the voting public supposed to forgive him for misconduct, for breaking the law, or maybe, for having given Albany reform efforts a bad name? In Spitzer's sometimes-teary-eyed, sometimes-laughing interview performances Tuesday, most such distinctions were left vague.

@Newsday

There's a big difference between forgiving and forgetting.

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