Can Disgraced Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer Come Back?

Disgraced former Gov. Eliot Spitzer is running for New York City comptroller.

July 8, 2013, 4:41 PM

July 9, 2013 -- Eliot Spitzer's decision to jump back into politics just five years after he went from tough talking governor to "Client 9" in a prostitution scandal was surprising for a number of reasons, but in his first day of the camapign for New York City comptroller, he made it clear he is in it to win it.

He told ABC station WABC-TV in New York that he "would not be running if I believed I could not win."

The question is, can he?

Political observers seem to agree he can, and the move is widely seen as the first step in a camapign for a higher prize: New York City mayor.

"Five years might be enough time in purgatory," longtime New York City Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf told ABC News. "Nobody runs for comptroller to be comptroller, you run for comptroller to be mayor."

Spitzer broke the news in an interview with the New York Times Sunday evening and on Monday he told CBS' "This Morning" that he made the decision as recently as this weekend. He said he wants to "re-envision, re-imagine" the position of comptroller.

As for how New Yorkers who remember him standing next to his wife Silda at a memorable news conference in 2008, admitting that while governor he was a client of a high-end prostitution ring, will react to his candidacy, he said he believes there is "forgiveness in the public."

Spitzer's first test will be getting on the ballot. When he announced his intentions Sunday, he only had four days to collect more than 3,700 signatures from registered New York City voters.

At his first event as a candidate Monday, he was swarmed by the press while he was trying to get signatures in Union Square. He spent most of the one hour doing interviews and dodging a heckler from the Howard Stern show than actually getting signatures. He got only 12 himself before jumping into a cab.

Sheinkopf worked for Spitzer when he won the attorney general's race in 1998, but not since then, and says "he can absolutely win." Sheinkopf is now advising former New York City comptroller Bill Thompson in his bid for mayor.

"Why can he win? The race is an argument about what he can do for the taxpayers of the city, what he did for the state as attorney general," Sheinkopf said.

Spitzer's message should be that he's sorry for what he did, but not everything he did, in order to remind voters he is more than just his fall from grace.

"I made a mistake when I did X, but I didn't make a mistake when I did Y and Z," Sheinkopf said. "What he did positive vs. the mistakes he did make. 'He's going to do things for us and that's how he's going to win that race.'"

Manhattan Borough president Scott Stringer, the most high-profile candidate seeking the New York City comptroller's job, which serves as the city's chief auditor and chief fiscal officer, had been seen as a shoo-in for the job, until Sunday.

After Spitzer's announcement, Stringer came out swinging on Twitter with his campaign manager writing, "Scott has a proven record of results & integrity + entered race to help NY's middle class regain footing" and "By contrast, Spitzer will spurn campaign finance program to buy personal redemption with his family fortune. The voters will decide."

Stringer, who already has the support of several of the city's Democratic mayoral candidates -- including Christine Quinn, Bill de Blasio, and Thompson, was more reserved in an afternoon press conference.

Spitzer is expected to use his personal fortune from his family's real estate company to run, as opposed to taking public funding.

Sheinkopf says Spitzer can beat Stringer because he can "attack him" and "outspend" him thanks to his funds.

He describes the job as "perfect for Spitzer" because he will have "some enforcement authority, not much, but (comptroller) acts as an oversight performance of audits of city agencies" as well as allowing him to be involved in "public policy prescriptions." The job also oversees the New York City public employee pensions fund.

Spitzer's surprise re-entry into politics won't be easy. There was even a movie made about the scandal titled "Client Nine," which is what he was known as in the scandal's federal affidavit. And the madam that ran the prostitution ring that Spitzer was accused of frequenting, Kristin Davis, also happens to be running for comptroller.

When asked about her candidacy and her charge to him to "Bring it on," Spitzer just chuckled, telling the CBS hosts, "Hey, this is politics."

Longtime New York City Democratic strategist Evan Stavisky, who is unaligned in this race, says it may be "too soon to tell whether he will win, but certainly anybody can win, depending on what happens over the course of the next 70 days, that's a short time."

"Seventy days is an eternity in a political campaign, but not a lot of time to redefine yourself and re-introduce yourself to voters, and unless you do so, you can only be viewed in the context of their existing opinion, which may be good, but may not be good," Stavisky said.

In his pitch to New York City voters on WABC-TV, Spitzer said he hopes "New Yorkers will understand that first, I'm asking for forgiveness that led to my resignation," he said. "But also, I hope they will look for the record I had as attorney general, as governor, as district attorney."

And that, Stavisky says, has to be his "rationale going forward."

"He took on the worst abuses of Wall Street as attorney general and he can do the same thing as comptroller advising the city's pension funds," Stavisky said, explaining what he thought Spitzer's pitch should be. "He took on entrenched institutions and made changes as governor and will do the same auditing power in the comptroller's office. It is up to voters to decide if his past experiences match up with the new job he's running for."

As governor, Spitzer wasn't popular with the state legislature and fought with members of both parties, finding himself with almost no allies in Albany by the time he resigned. It's something that won't help him in this bid, but he did resign almost immediately, not dragging out the scandal in the public eye for longer than necessary or trying to deny the charges, something that could help him during this fight -- if, of course, voters are willing to forgive.

Stavisky does tend to agree with Sheinkopf that running for comptroller is seen as a springboard to the mayoral race, but not always to City Hall, noting almost every comptroller since the early 1970s has run for mayor, including two running now -- Thompson and current comptroller John Liu -- but in that time only one made it to Gracie Mansion.

He also cautions against a blueprint with this run.

"You have to throw out the rule book when you are dealing with the Eliot Spitzer candidacy for New York City comptroller," Stavisky said, putting it succinctly.

ABC News' Josh Haskell contributed to this report.

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