Politically speaking, we are, indeed, the “Land of Second Chances.” Americans love a Comeback Kid. We’ve already proven that many times and we’re about to prove it yet again, with news that former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer is attempting his return to public life as New York City comptroller.
Not so long ago, chances for Spitzer’s political resurrection didn’t look so hot. On April 28, 2012, four years after his resignation in disgrace, when both of us were newly minted hosts on Current TV, I accompanied Spitzer to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Because traffic was so snarled on Connecticut Avenue, we hopped out of our car to walk the last block to the Washington Hilton. What a scene! As soon as they spotted him, the crowd on the street started chanting: “Client Number Nine! Client Number Nine!” That was the code name given Spitzer by his escort service.
And, no doubt, questions about his involvement with prostitutes will continue to haunt him during this new campaign. Indeed, they already are. Monday’s New York Post put his photo on the cover with the headline: “Here We Ho Again.” The Daily Caller wondered if, perhaps, Spitzer had a bad case of “Weiner envy.” But Spitzer believes voters will look beyond his personal transgressions to what he accomplished while in public office. As he told me on Current TV: “Politics is a contact sport. I made significant errors. I stood up, accepted responsibility, resigned. It’s now been five years. I hope the public will extend its forgiveness to me. I will ask for it. I will say to the public, ‘Look at what my record was as attorney general and governor.’”
On that score, New Yorkers should not only vote for Spitzer to return to public office, they should beg him to. Nobody has a better record of fighting white-collar crime. As Manhattan assistant district attorney, he’s credited with launching the investigation that ended the Gambino family’s control over Manhattan’s garment and trucking industries. As New York attorney general, he was the scourge of Wall Street, waging relentless war on securities fraud, computer chip price fixing, investment bank stock price inflation, predatory lending practices and fraud at AIG, among other targets. There’s no doubt that, had Spitzer been Obama’s attorney general, several former Wall Street CEOs would be following his latest campaign from their prison cells. Instead, they’re quaking in their Guccis that he’ll soon be back on their trail.
Even in New York City, most people never heard of the obscure position of city comptroller. But Spitzer told me he has big plans for the job, targeting three areas over which the city comptroller has specific responsibilities: helping shape the city budget; using the shareholder power of city pensions to fight for better corporate governance and exercising tough oversight over city departments.
Spitzer must first collect 3,750 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, and then convince voters he’s a better choice for comptroller than Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. But my guess is that voters will make that decision based on which one can do the better job as comptroller, and not on which has the more checkered past. American voters are, indeed, willing to forgive and forget, as long as it’s a question of sex and not of money — a lesson never learned by Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell.
As reported in the Washington Post, McDonnell and his wife accepted $145,000 in cash, including $15,000 to pay the catering costs for his daughter’s wedding, from wealthy Virginia businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., without disclosing it as a gift or loan, as required by law. On top of that, Williams gave McDonnell a $6,500 Rolex watch and bought $15,000 worth of clothes for his wife. If McDonnell survives, he can forget about running for any other office. Instead of stuffing his pockets, he’d have been better off having an affair.
Meanwhile, ain’t politics fun? By the end of the year, New Yorkers might boast Mayor Anthony Weiner and Comptroller Eliot Spitzer. Both are great politicians and both remind us that we’re all human and we all make mistakes.
Bill Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show.