On Sunday evening, as most of New York was winding down from a quiet holiday weekend, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer barged into what had been a sleepy contest for city comptroller with a Shakespearean burst of sound and fury.
He wants forgiveness. He wants redemption. He wants his old public life back. He wants to be loved. He wants to matter again.
You give me another chance, Spitzer is saying, and I’ll show you things you never thought possible from a city comptroller. Should we listen? Actually, we should.
For starters, this isn’t the weirdest political proposition we’ve heard lately.
Former Congressman Anthony Weiner locked that distinction down a few months ago when he announced for mayor. Not only had Weiner been publicly disgraced, he had initiated virtually no tide-turning legislation during his years in Washington. And worse, he’d developed a reputation as a hot-headed loner whose ability even to administer an office staff was marred by temperamental fireworks.
So now Weiner wants to run a city that has 250,000 employees, a chain of ancient and notorious bureaucratic fiefdoms that won’t cede power easily, and unions that have defied generations of savvy pols and administrators?
Weiner is asking voters to make an Olympian leap of faith. He may ultimately deserve that leap—or maybe not—but he faces a formidable task in the next few months as he makes his case for the Democratic nomination.
So does Spitzer—but he’s aiming down. For him, a bid for city comptroller almost passes for humility.
True, the governor who proclaimed himself a “steamroller” has some nasty temperament issues of his own. And yes, the office comptroller is a very big deal in the sense that he’d manage an $80 billion pension fund, audit mayoral programs and rule on various municipal financial transactions. But the job isn’t in the same league with the mayoralty or the governor’s office. Spitzer isn’t asking for permission to play the big room.
Meanwhile, Wall Street —upon whose livelihood New York City depends — still needs a sheriff. Whatever you want to say about Spitzer’s personal life or his performance as governor, the Great Recession, Wall Street’s role in it and the disastrous inability of the Securities and Exchange Commission to effectively regulate a machine out of control combine to make his days as state attorney general look better all the time.
The city comptroller and state AG have profoundly different duties, of course. But a Spitzer with his head screwed on and his hubris under control at least passes the laugh test. So bring on the noise, bring on the funk.