Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer fought off Eliot Spitzer in the Democratic primary for New York City comptroller, halting the former governor’s attempted comeback from a prostitution scandal.
Stringer, who had the support of the party establishment and the city’s three major newspapers, captured 52 percent of yesterday’s vote with 97 percent of precincts reporting, compared with 48 percent for Spitzer, according to the Associated Press. With Democrats outnumbering Republicans by more than 6 to 1, the victory virtually ensures Stringer, 53, will become comptroller after the general election in November.
The comptroller is the city’s chief financial officer, auditing agencies and overseeing $140 billion in pension assets. Stringer’s temperate public statements before his opponent entered the race contrasted with the media-driven drama of the fiery Spitzer’s return.
“To the people of this city: As I continue to get to know you, I believe public office can make a difference,” Stringer, a veteran state politician, told supporters last night.
Doug Muzzio, a professor of urban politics at Baruch College of the City University of New York, said Stringer will be vigorous, with an eye toward extending his career.
“What you’ll have is a really active comptroller who has his own political ambitions,” he said. “Spitzer would go in and be the steamroller. Scott’s not going to do that.”
Spitzer, 54, resigned as governor in 2008 after his trysts were disclosed. He entered the race in July, upending a contest in which Stringer, a career politician, was expected to coast to victory. The former “Sheriff of Wall Street” vowed to use the power of the pension funds to keep corporations well managed and socially responsible.
The son of a multimillionaire real estate developer, Spitzer waged a self-financed campaign, outspending Stringer and outside groups backing him by $7.2 million to $5.3 million, according New York City campaign-finance records.
He portrayed himself as a ready to do battle with Wall Street again, just as he had done as state attorney general. In that post, he rose to prominence by exposing conflicts of interest between Wall Street firms’ analysts and investment bankers. Stringer, he said, accomplished little in a 20-year career in politics, including 12 in the state Assembly.
Voting for Stringer was “like a default vote,” said Bambi Granovsky, 71, outside a precinct on Manhattan’s East Side.
“I didn’t want to vote for Spitzer; I have an issue with his aggressiveness,” Granovsky said. “His manner alienates everyone. A comptroller brings people together.”
In his concession speech, Spitzer said he could continue to serve the public “in different ways.”
“I’m proud to have run a campaign over the past nine weeks that many thought was incapable to mount from the very beginning,” Spitzer said.
After finding himself behind in the polls by as much as 19 percentage points, Stringer fought back, attacking Spitzer for breaking the law when he patronized high-priced prostitutes. Spitzer wasn’t charged with a crime.
Stringer called Spitzer’s 15-month term as governor a “colossal failure.”
While Spitzer painted the opposition to his candidacy by business and labor as proof that powerful interests had something to fear, most voters saw it differently, said Ester Fuchs, a professor of political science at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and a Stringer supporter.
“The fact that you can get labor, business and women’s organizations to agree on anything would give one pause about the candidate,” said Fuchs, who served as special adviser to Mayor Michael Bloomberg from 2001 to 2005. The mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
“When a public official violates the law and betrays the public trust, it’s not about second chances. It’s about judgment and it’s about whether you want a person like that in high positions of authority in the city of New York.”
In addition to about $4.2 million of individual contributions and $1.9 million of public matching funds, Stringer received about $1.3 million from outside groups affiliated with unions such as the American Federation of Teachers and the Central Labor Council, an umbrella group representing 1.3 million workers.
“We built a coalition,” Stringer said in his victory speech. “We had labor, we had parents, we had the next generation of Democrats.”
Stringer says his own views on using pension funds’ shareholder clout to influence corporate management and decision-making parallel Spitzer’s.
“You have to be aggressive with corporate-governance work, and need to press for reforms that improve accountability, transparency, efficiency and performance, because that’s good for business,” Stringer said in a July interview.
“But you have to approach this work with balance and maturity and work with a lot of people,” he said. “It’s wrong to think you’re the sheriff of our pension fund.”
As attorney general from 1999 through 2006, Spitzer disclosed subpoenaed e-mails and other evidence to persuade Merrill Lynch & Co., Citigroup Inc. and other securities firms to pay $1.4 billion in pretrial settlements, rather than go to court on charges they misled consumers with biased research.
He was then elected governor, with 69 percent of the vote in 2006, serving for less than 15 months before getting caught patronizing high-priced prostitutes.
Since resigning as governor, Spitzer has run the family’s real estate investment firm and worked as a commentator on CNN.