Spitzer's New Political Drama

The disgraced former New York governor’s comeback promises to be nearly as big a made-for-TV spectacle as his downfall.

By Jere Hester
|  Monday, Jul 8, 2013  |  Updated 11:55 PM PDT
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Eliot Spitzer is on the comeback trail.

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Disgraced former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer told The New York Times he didn't do any polling before deciding to launch his political comeback by running in the upcoming Democratic primary for city comptroller.

He didn't have to – all he needed to do was look at the latest numbers for disgraced former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, who is running in the upcoming Democratic primary for mayor.

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For Spitzer, an aggressively intelligent politician who foolishly turned himself into a national spectacle with a prostitution scandal in 2008, jumping back into the electoral fray must have seemed a no-brainer. Voters will determine whether he made a smart move. But one thing is certain: Spitzer’s surprise campaign promises a made-for-TV political drama bound to be closely watched far beyond New York.

His attempt at a political cleansing arrives bathed in irony: His downfall inadvertently helped pave way for the returns of Weiner and South Carolina governor-turned-congressman Mark Sanford, whose scandals born of dubious judgment at least were within the bounds of law. Now, Sanford and Weiner’s renewed popularity likely helped set Spitzer’s slow-motion comeback into fast-forward.

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Spitzer’s gambit instantly makes him and Weiner strange political bedfellows. The former governor’s entry into the race might take some of the heat off Weiner, whose name and misdeeds have spurred some the raunchiest headlines in memory. Or Spitzer’s re-emergence might magnify the scrutiny on both: After all, it’s possible that come Jan. 1, New York City’s two top elected officials could be scandal-scarred pols – a duo likely to clash, given the potential adversarial nature of the offices and their shared combative personalities.

If all this isn’t the makings of a drama worthy of Shakespeare, it’s certainly one built for TV – particularly at a time when the clash of politics and peccadilloes drives some quality programs. “House of Cards” is generating Emmy buzz and “Scandal” has heated up screens all over.

But “The Good Wife,” which, as we’ve noted, was inspired in part by the Spitzer self-immolation and presaged Weiner’s revival, has proven the most true-to-life of the political dramas. The show’s latest season ended with the title character’s husband, a former district attorney caught with a hooker and convicted of corruption, rebounding to win the governorship of Illinois.

It’s unclear what role Silda Spitzer, who stood at her husband's side when he resigned five-plus years ago, will play in his new campaign. Meanwhile, Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, has proved an integral part of his orchestrated comeback, which started in April with a New York Times Magazine interview. Abedin apparently learned from her longtime boss Hillary Clinton, a former first lady, senator, secretary of state and presidential candidate whose ambitions haven’t been tempered by betrayals, time and occasional defeats.

But as Clinton could well tell Spitzer, politics is a long and uncertain road. His path won’t be easy – particularly given that he’s two months from facing outgoing Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who, while not nationally known, is a longtime New York pol and enjoys Democratic Party support.

Like Weiner, Spitzer already has succeeded in at least one respect: He’s got people talking about him again. Spitzer might not like everything he hears, but the man whose two talk shows fizzled is betting what’s left of his career that voters are ready to listen.

 

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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