Eliot Spitzer admits: I lied, broke the law

Former New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer speaks

Former New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer speaks to the media in Union Square as he gathers signatures to be a candidate for comptroller. (July 08, 2013) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

New York City comptroller candidate Eliot Spitzer conceded he lied and broke the law by patronizing a high-end prostitution ring but said "politicians dissemble all the time" -- and that voters can judge whether he deserves a second chance.

The former governor, appearing on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" talk show, outlined a muscular vision for the office, promising to be an aggressive fiscal monitor -- not "how many paper clips were delivered, but are the policies working?"

But questions about the scandal that led him to resign as governor in 2008 continued to dog him. Spitzer, 54, choked up during the end of the interview when asked how he is different from he was five years ago.

"A lot of pain," he said softly. "You go through that pain, you change."

Spitzer resigned days after allegations surfaced that he had patronized prostitutes. His extramarital activity surfaced on federal authorities' radar when he tried to wire-transfer more than $10,000 from his bank to the front for the sex ring. He'd broken down the payments into smaller amounts, in what appeared to be an attempt to skirt federal regulations requiring large transfers to be reported to the government.

He then apparently asked the bank to take his name off the wire transfers. But it was too late, and the bank reported the transactions.

In the MSNBC interview, Spitzer acknowledged, "that's correct" that he lied about "illegal activity." Asked whether such lies should disqualify him, Spitzer said the voters should judge. "We all know that politicians dissemble all the time about negotiations, on substantive issues and probably on personal issues as well," he said.

Spitzer announced his candidacy Sunday night and has until midnight Thursday to gather 3,750 valid signatures from registered New York City Democrats on nominating petitions to appear on the Democratic primary ballot for comptroller against Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Most candidates spend more than five weeks collecting signatures.

Spitzer, who fashioned himself as a steamroller of those in his way after he was elected governor after serving as state attorney general, will face resistance: He made a long enemies list in the business community during his tenure as the so-called "Sheriff of Wall Street" while attorney general.

Kathryn Wylde, president and chief executive of the business group the Partnership for New York City, said she suspects that those looking to stop Spitzer's candidacy "will find fertile ground fundraising in the business community."

Sonia Ossorio, head of the National Organization for Woman in New York City, said her organization would muster its "thriving boots on the ground" and "political operation" to actively oppose Spitzer for "participating in an industry that has a long history of exploiting women and girls."

In a radio interview with "The Capitol Pressroom" show in Albany Tuesday, Spitzer pivoted from a question about what message his candidacy sends women "who no longer want to be seen as objects."

He said that though he pushed through a human trafficking bill as governor to curb prostitution, "my behavior obviously didn't comport with that."

Spitzer plans to self-finance his campaign with his family's real estate fortune -- a decision that drew another attack Tuesday from Stringer."I'm going to do it the right way," Stringer, who is fundraising under limits set by the city's public financing system, said on WNYC radio.

Mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker, Tuesday criticized both Spitzer and Anthony Weiner, an opponent for the Democratic nomination, who himself left office in a sex scandal.

"What have these two men done since their fall from grace to make it clear to women -- and men, for that matter -- that their selfish, dishonest ways are behind them?" she said.

With Emily Ngo

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