Eliot Spitzer arrived at the Board of Elections headquarters in downtown Manhattan with four boxes late last night that he said contained petitions with more than 27,000 signatures, or more than seven times the number of ballot signatures needed to get him on the ballot for city comptroller.
"We have done this in the most meticulous way," Spitzer said in front of the election offices in lower Manhattan. "We have checked to make sure this is done properly. Twenty-seven thousand is a demonstration of popular support for a candidate."
The former governor and late-entry candidate gave himself just four days to collect 3,750 valid signatures -- a process that usually spans more than a month. The rules are complex and allow no margin for even minor error. Signatures must be from registered Democrats who are New York City residents and who have not signed another comptroller candidate's petition.
Uncertainty over whether he will clear the hurdles had no effect on the national attention Spitzer has brought to the city comptroller's race as he tries to come back from a prostitution scandal five years ago. He planned to fly to Los Angeles Friday to tape an appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.
In a jab at his opponent, Scott Stringer, Spitzer said anyone who dared to challenge the validity of 27,000 signatures doesn't "believe in democracy . . . in the fundamental notion of competition to receive the votes of the citizens."
Stringer's campaign responded in a statement that if "Eliot Spitzer cared about democracy, he would participate in the city's campaign finance program and not use his personal fortune to try and buy this election wholesale."
Spitzer's team of paid canvassers and volunteers petitioners, clipboards in hand, eagerly sought out signatures. "Spitzer for comptroller!" one of them called out. "Help get him on the ballot!" Many passersby ignored the pleas, some scoffed, but others agreed to sign.
Andrew Hammer of the Upper East Side muttered, "No way!" when asked to sign.
But Jose Zavala of the Bronx offered to sign: "He [Spitzer] caught my attention when the banks and the big corporations were committing fraud against regular people. He stood up against them."
Candidates typically collect at least three times as many signatures as necessary, with the expectation that many will be deemed invalid.
General objections, which can be made by any city resident, must be filed to the Board of Elections by Monday.The election law allows for signatures to be tossed if they were dated incorrectly, and for whole sheets of about 10 to 15 signatures to be discounted if, for example, they were numbered out of sequence in the packets presented to the Board of Elections, experts said. Everything from the way the signature gatherer, or "witness," filled out his or her information at the bottom of each sheet to the way the sheets were bound together could be scrutinized, said Jerry Skurnik, a political consultant who worked with Spitzer on his 1994 attorney general run.
"The Board of Elections now gives you three days to correct most errors, but you don't want to take a chance at having to correct them," Skurnik said. Skurnik isn't working on Spitzer's comptroller campaign, but said, "I'm assuming he's a little stressed out."