Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer kicked off his first full day of campaigning as a city comptroller candidate Monday, collecting petition signatures in Manhattan's Union Square amid a swarm of reporters and onlookers.
His candidacy marks his first attempt at a return to elected office since he resigned from the governor's office on March 17, 2008, after reports surfaced that he paid for the services of a high-end prostitution ring. Spitzer said he had been considering a bid for comptroller for months, but made up his mind just this past weekend.
Spitzer, 54, a Democrat, said that his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, supports his bid and will campaign on his behalf, that former Rep. Anthony Weiner's redemptive run for mayor had "nothing to do" with his own decision and that he would self-finance his campaign, spending "enough so I'm heard."
Spitzer added that he hoped voters will consider his "substantive record" as governor, as attorney general and as a prosecutor beyond his sex scandal.
Weiner Monday sought to downplay parallels between his bid and Spitzer's, saying Spitzer's candidacy "doesn't impact my life very much at all."
Weiner's rival in the mayoral race, Christine Quinn, had a sharp rebuke for both men.
"You have to earn second chances, not just ask for them," she said. "So for me the question for both Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer is, what have they been doing to earn this second chance?"
Some voters in Union Square were ready to give Spitzer that second chance.
"It's been five years," said Cleonie Sinclair, of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. "We have to move on, because no one is perfect."
Andrew Fine, 45, of the Upper East Side, the first to sign the petition sheet that Spitzer held, said he was still undecided but believed voters deserve "freedom of choice."
Confronted by a heckler, Spitzer said he has "skin as thick as a rhinoceros" and ignored the jeers. "I've been in politics for a long time," he said. "I've been in front of the jury for many years . . . This is New York. You don't get into this fray if you don't know this is going to happen."
Spitzer will need 3,750 valid petition signatures by Thursday to get on the ballot. He had only nine by the time he hopped into a taxicab to escape the media mob, though others working for his campaign may have collected more.
Spitzer had called Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a fellow Democrat who until Sunday was to be the presumptive victor of the comptroller's race, a friend, and said he would reach out to him. "Competition is good," Spitzer said.
Stringer, in an afternoon campaign appearance on the Upper West Side, took reporters' questions with his wife, Elyse Buxbaum, at his side.
He insisted Spitzer's entry into the race would not change his campaign strategy, noting only that he expected more reporters would take interest. "This is not a race about Eliot or me, it's a race about fighting for the city," he said.
Stringer, 53, reiterated the "integrity" of his campaign several times and said he would not attack Spitzer on his scandal. Instead, he went after Spitzer's choice to self-finance. "It's hard to run in New York City and try to buy an election in 2013," Stringer said.
Stringer's supporters touted his morals and record as borough president. "This gentleman has worked his tail off and done the right thing," said Wendy Landers-Lee, 56, of the Upper West Side. "Let's reward him."
The Republican candidate for comptroller, financier John Burnett, Monday in a statement welcomed Spitzer to the race but added that the office they sought was "too important . . . to be used to rehabilitate a political career."