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Editorial: Eliot Spitzer, welcome back to politics

Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer collects signatures

Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer collects signatures from citizens to run for comptroller of New York City. (July 8, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

With a Shakespearean burst of sound and fury, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer has suddenly blasted his way into what had been a sleepy contest for New York City comptroller. He wants forgiveness. He wants redemption. And in return, he's promising to give New Yorkers some things they never really expected from a comptroller, such as forensic forays into matters like the way high school graduation rates are calculated.

His candidacy is worth a look in a city grown weary from 20 years of imperial mayoral reign.

Whatever Spitzer's shortcomings -- and they're widely known -- this isn't the weirdest pitch we've heard lately. Former Rep. Anthony Weiner locked that distinction down in May when he announced for mayor.

The two candidates share notable similarities. Both have been publicly disgraced. Both can be hotheaded and intemperate. And in a municipality with 250,000 workers, $80 billion invested in pension funds, scores of aggressive unions, and numerous governmental fiefdoms unlikely to cede power, impulsiveness at the top isn't a good idea.

But Spitzer isn't seeking election as mayor or any higher office, at least not yet. For now, he's asking to keep the books and make sure taxpayers get the most for their money, from Wall Street's investment houses and from the vast spectrum of programs City Hall sponsors.

Whatever you want to say about his personal life and his 14½ months as governor, this much is certain: The Great Recession, Wall Street's role in it, and the Securities and Exchange Commission's disastrous failure to regulate a machine run amok make Spitzer's eight years as New York State's attorney general look better all the time.

The biggest risk to Spitzer in the city comptroller's chair? Should he opt to use the office mainly as a stepping stone, he could cause chronic governmental stalemate.

He faces a tight deadline as he races to collect enough signatures by midnight Thursday to gain a line on the Sept. 10 Democratic primary ballot. With his hubris in check, Spitzer could be a stong, credible voice in a city that urgently needs one.