Back in April, I proclaimed the “death of the political sex scandal,” after former South Carolina Governor, and noted adulterer, Mark Sanford won the Republican primary for a special House election (he went on to defeat Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch to win the seat). Now the political sex scandal is even deader.
Eliot Spitzer’s surprise announcement that he will run for the office of New York City comptroller means the former New York governor reckons—correctly, I’d surmise—that voters are willing to forgive him for the scandal that drove him from office five years ago: consorting with a prostitute. Spitzer no doubt arrived at this conclusion after witnessing the post-Sanford redemption of another politician disgraced by sexual shenanigans, his fellow New Yorker and Twitter-dong-shot artist Anthony Weiner. When Weiner announced in May that he would run for New York City mayor, he appeared to be pursuing a long-shot bid. But a poll two weeks ago showed him leading the race.
It’s worth noting that neither Spitzer nor Weiner has committed what I consider to be the two politically inexpiable sins as regards the sex scandal: A politician cannot survive getting caught consorting with someone underage and cannot overcome the explicit disapproval of his spouse. It was Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, who ultimately prevailed on him to resign his House seat. But she has also featured prominently in his resurrection. Last night, Spitzer was asked whether he is separated from his wife, Silda (there had been rumors), and replied that they were still together and that she supported his bid.
Spitzer is further helped by the fact that he is pursuing the relatively modest office of city comptroller—hardly a plum for a former governor—and also that he apparently intends to refashion the job into a crusading position from which to harass banks and Wall Street firms, since the comptroller’s office oversees city pension funds. Financial institutions remain extraordinarily unpopular with voters.
Of course, Spitzer’s ambitions are much larger than comptroller. Most observers consider the move a steppingstone to running for mayor in 2017. That would raise the exciting possibility of Spitzer running against Weiner—a sort of MMA cage match of heavyweight New York pols. One thing would be certain: Neither candidate would find himself at a disadvantage because of past sexual misdeeds.