Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned amid a prostitution scandal in 2008 and is now running for comptroller of New York City, campaigned in Union Square Monday and said he hopes he has changed.
Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer said he hopes he has changed since he was caught in a prostitution scandal that led to his resignation, as he attempts to revive his political career with a run for New York City comptroller.
"I think the public will have to ask itself the question, 'can we forgive him?' I've asked for the forgiveness, I hope the public says 'yes,' based upon the record I have, based upon qualities I can bring to the office," Spitzer told reporters as he campaigned in Union Square, seeking signatures to petition a spot on the ballot.
Asked if he has changed since the 2008 fall from power, he replied "I hope so."
He insisted he is seeking only the comptroller spot, and has no higher aspirations. He said he ultimately decided on the comptroller run only in the last 48 hours.
It was clear the Democrat was a major draw in Manhattan Monday, as throngs of reporters and television cameras crowded around.
What remains to be seen is what the voters will decide, even in New York, a city where they have a record of forgiving those who have fallen from grace.
Jane Morales, a receptionist from Harlem, was feeling positive toward Spitzer.
"He should do it. I think he should be forgiven," she said, adding that she planned on voting for him.
"I hope no one would hold what I've done over my head for the rest of my life," she added.
Siby Vadakkekara, 36, a merchandising director, wasn't so sure.
"I don't know that I would support him," she said. "I just think that there's a certain level of ethics that a politician should have. I think he really disappointed a lot of people."
Returning to public service after more than six years in the political wilderness was difficult for Spitzer, who never hid from the spotlight and even joked about his mistakes on camera and at political events. His wife, Silda, who stood shaken up at Spitzer's side during his resignation speech, an image that was carried globally, also returned to life in the public eye. She began attending charity fundraisers months after the scandal.
Spitzer does bring his own comeback experience. In 1994, he was trounced while seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general, then drove thousands of miles around the state to visit local political leaders and influential groups en route to winning the office in 1998. He transformed the position and became known as the sheriff of Wall Street, the kind of change he aims to bring to the comptroller's office.
He said he would focus on public policy discussions, the city budget and corporate governance, much as he did as attorney general for two terms before he was elected governor in 2006. He wrote a book on improving the governance of corporations, which is due out in a week.
The key to such improvement comes from within, as a major shareholder, Spitzer said. The city pension fund, which the comptroller oversees, is a major investor in many of the world's biggest companies.
"You can't regulate or prosecute your way to governing corporations better," he said Monday.
He said he would use the city pension's shareholder stakes to force changes in how corporations operate. He said he will also use the comptroller's voice "not just for auditing the city budget, but to make sure the politics are working, not just that the paper clips are counted."
"There is also the oversight role in the budget, which his critically important," Spitzer said. "We have a lot of tough decisions to make."
His timeframe alone presents a challenge. Candidates for citywide offices like comptroller have to have 3,750 signatures from registered voters in their party by Thursday.
Spitzer has spoken in the past about the potential for the comptroller's job to look into corporate misdeeds. Since his resignation, the married father of three has returned to public life as a commentator, with shows on CNN, Current TV and NY1.
He said he hoped city voters would give him a chance.
He said he'd discussed his potential run with his wife and daughters before deciding over the weekend. Current Comptroller John Liu is running for mayor.
Spitzer conceded that getting back into politics under the circumstances will require "skin as thick as a rhinoceros."
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has been the most prominent among the contenders to become New York City's next fiscal chief. He's raised more than $3.5 million and spent about $566,000, city campaign finance records show.
His opponents include Republican John Burnett, who has worked on Wall Street in various finance capacities and just recently declared his candidacy; Green Party candidate Julia Willebrand, a former teacher; and former madam Kristin Davis. Davis once ran three escort services and claims to have provided prostitutes to Spitzer, which hasn't been proven.
Spitzer carries a lot of baggage from his abbreviated term as governor, including a scandal in which some of his top aides were charged with ethics violations in what became known as "trooper gate." He also pushed for providing driver's licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally, a bold move for the time that helped turn Democrats statewide against him.