Positive aspects of New York City’s Weiner-Spitzer summer:
1) Opportunities for invigorating dinner conversations over who would be worse to have as a major city official. Personally, I think Eliot Spitzer is behaving as if he’s much crazier. But it’s true that you can never look at Anthony Weiner without imagining his underwear.
2) Opportunities to discuss what would happen if we got both. It could be pretty exciting. The entire city would come to a halt as the two staffs fired rocket launchers at each other. The movie version would be in 3-D and star Channing Tatum as Eliot Spitzer.
3) Opportunities to bring up New York sex scandals of the past, beginning with Grover Cleveland and ending with the time that Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced his separation plans at a press conference before telling his wife.
But about our current situation. Disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner is, as you know, running for mayor in the Democratic primary this September. We had just sort of gotten used to that when Eliot Spitzer jumped into the city comptroller race this week.
Spitzer resigned as governor in 2008 after the world discovered our law-and-order chief executive was a patron of high-priced prostitution services. When he left, he vowed to try “outside of politics, to serve the common good.”
Then, suddenly, this week, he was back inside politics! Announcing that he was going to run for office again because, as he said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “I believe in service.”
Time after time, we hear a scandal-tarred politician vow to go away and make amends. Time after time, we envision a stint as a missionary or a hospital volunteer. Time after time, we are disappointed.
Consider the example of former Rep. Steve Driehaus of Cincinnati, a person who, I should point out immediately, did not do anything wrong whatsoever except lose a race for reelection in 2010. He then packed up his family and went off to join the Peace Corps in Swaziland.
“He’s working with folks with HIV/AIDS. He loves it,” reported his sister, Denise.
In this week’s TV tour, Spitzer failed to address the question of why he was not in Swaziland. He said on Morning Joe that during his five years in exile, “I’ve tried to do things that matter in a small, quiet way.” This seemed like a strange way to describe multiple stints hosting political talk shows.
His late-breaking campaign entry had an unplanned, semihysterical air. He seemed to have no staff or organization, and he announced just four days before the deadline for turning in nominating petitions. This is one of the many quaint parts of the New York democratic tradition, intended to make it difficult for people who are not incumbent officeholders to get on the ballot.
Nobody knows what drove Spitzer to jump in. Did Weiner’s entry trigger a case of disgraced-politician competitiveness?
Is he bored?
Did the fact that he’s run through every possible cable news show option send him into a panic?
He said that people were always coming up to him on the street and urging him to get back in the game. This is sort of true. A few years back, I had breakfast with him in a little diner and a couple of people did approach, unprompted, to say that they thought he got a raw deal.
“They wouldn’t have made you quit in Europe,” one said.
“Maybe I should move to Europe,” Spitzer responded cheerfully.
People like to be able to go home and tell their families that they met a celebrity, even a disgraced one. Actually, more particularly a disgraced one. (You could get a lot more mileage by describing your encounter with former Gov. Eliot Spitzer than former Gov. George Pataki.) And when you’re looking for a celebrity conversation starter, “I hope you run for something again” goes a lot farther than “Why are you still here?”
In his reentry interview with Jonathan Van Meter in The Times Magazine, Anthony Weiner said people were always coming up to him saying he should run. (Although some, Weiner added, also said: “Spitzer! You’re Governor Spitzer!”) New York is a liberal place, but can there be that much hunger for sex-scandal-scarred candidates?
Meanwhile, people are coming up to Scott Stringer, the other Democratic candidate for comptroller, and saying things like, “You gotta beat Eliot Weiner.”
Stringer, the current Manhattan borough president, was stunned when the news about Spitzer broke on Sunday night.
“I’m 53, and I got more calls and texts than I think I’d gotten in my entire life,” Stringer said. “Thank God I have the unlimited plan.”
A poll conducted by Marist for The Wall Street Journal and NBC 4 New York, showed Spitzer ahead, 42 percent to 33 percent. It might just be name recognition. But if this guy wins, all hope of getting errant politicians to do penance anywhere but a CNN studio is gone forever.