Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Spitzer Weiner Platz

Sexual sins?


Let's face it:  New York's porno politicians wouldn't be re-running for office if they didn't think they stood a decent chance of redeeming themselves with their electorate.

Whether they win their elections or not.

Sunday evening, New York State's disgraced former governor, Eliot Spitzer, announced he is making a run for New York City Comptroller, an elected position that basically controls the city's checkbooks.  His decision comes rather late in the election game, however, since by this coming Thursday (um, tomorrow!), he needs to find 3,750 voters willing to validate his campaign so he can run in the primaries.

Perhaps not surprisingly, that validation process has itself become problematic for Spitzer.  Even though Democrats are a dime a dozen in this eight-million-plus city, you can't just wander the streets and collect signatures.  The signatures have to be from eligible voters who have not already signed a similar petition for another candidate in the same race.  Plus, on any given day, the scores of people you see on the streets of Manhattan, for instance, likely include more tourists, suburbanites, and temporary residents than genuine city voters.  The New York Times reports that Spitzer began to reveal some desperation Tuesday, advertising on Craigslist for signature-collectors with the pay rate of a stunning $800 a day.

Conventional political candidates, meanwhile, start their signature-collecting months before the deadline and work within their respective party's political organizations.  In Spitzer's case, his credibility among women is practically nil, and the city's tyrannical unions have already sided with the comptroller race's front-runner, Scott Stringer, who, by New York standards, has a squeaky-clean reputation.  It's an uphill battle no matter how you look at it.  But still, 3,750 signatures isn't impossible.  Stringer is Manhattan's borough president, which doesn't exactly endear him to voters in the outer boroughs exasperated by the attention City Hall pays the city's most celebrated borough at the expense of the other four.

As for money, Spitzer's father, a wealthy real estate mogul in the city, will be bankrolling his campaign, so the fact that fundraising dollars have already gone to others in the race doesn't faze him.  The elderly elder Spitzer is reputed to be in ill health with Parkinson's Disease, so perhaps Eliot's run is timed as much for his father's benefit as anything else.

It certainly isn't for the city's benefit.  Few political wonks in the Big Apple, even those as liberal as Spitzer, want him managing the city's finances.  Spitzer, you'll recall, is the former governor who hired prostitutes for himself, despite being married with three daughters.  At the time, his scandal was enough to force him to resign the governorship.  And so far, most polls have shown New Yorkers to be uninterested in anything more from him politically.

Of course, Spitzer's surprise announcement has sucked away the media's infatuation with Anthony Weiner, another married, liberal Democrat who was forced from office over a sex scandal, but has decided to run for office again.  Except Weiner's sights are set on being mayor of the world's greatest city.  Despite entering this year's elections late as well, Weiner has managed to acquire a quick lead over Christine Quinn in the Democratic primary, considered the side to watch this year, since the Republican field doesn't have anybody as charismatic as Michael Bloomberg or Rudy Giulianni.

One reason why city voters appear to be gravitating towards Weiner for mayor is because the former city councilmember from Queens is not part of the Manhattan power establishment.  His major opponent, however, despite being a lesbian and openly married to another woman - characteristics overwhelmingly embraced in New York -  is seen by many in the outer boroughs as simply another star in the Manhattan firmament, disconnected from the social and economic realities that differentiate the city's hardscrabble neighborhoods from its tourist mecca.

Then, too, I suppose there is a modicum of difference between sending photos of one's bulging underwear to women who are not your wife, and hiring prostitutes.  To New York voters, they're simply increments on a general scale of sleaze, kind of like what they've endured in their long-running infatuation with the Kennedy men, and Bill Clinton.  Conservatives may preach redemption and forgiveness in their houses of worship, but liberals practice it in their politics.

And it's not like New Yorkers are alone in their willingness to forgive past sexual transgressions.  Right-wingers in South Carolina, of all places, are back in love with Mark Sanford, the Republican recently elected as a representative after being censured while governor for lying about an affair he was having with an Argentine woman.  Sanford isn't even part of the South's legendary Christian culture anymore, having professed faith in Buddhism, which seems to mesh seamlessly into his liberal Episcopal worldview.

Indeed, Sanford has been able to rationalize his way out of his sins with a combination of public contrition and an aw-shucks "I'm only human" schtick that frames infidelity as an inevitability for hardworking (male) public servants.  He has convinced his supporters to do the same, just as Weiner is doing, and Spitzer hopes to do.  Are these men in just the right place at just the right time, running races where they really are legitimately superior to their opponents - which should say really sad things about their opponents?  Are they freaks of political happenstance in places perched on either end of the political spectrum?  Actually, Republicans seem to be more guilty of scandalous sexuality while in office than Democrats, if these lists on Wikipedia are any guide.  But while Republicans appear to step away and stay away from public life after getting caught, doesn't it seem like Democrats have the greater audacity in expecting voters to forgive and forget?

Particularly this year in New York City, where two notorious bad-boys are hoping to jump-start political careers their own indiscretions forced them to abandon.

Maybe Spitzer's late dive into the election pool is a calculated stunt by the Weiner campaign to distract voters and throw the city's voracious media onto a campaign that is even more salacious.  It would help explain Spitzer's odd timing, it likely doesn't imperil Stringer's candidacy for comptroller, it gives Weiner a chance to focus on issues rather than image, and it could even help Spitzer prove to his detractors that his hometown is still the sanctuary of second chances, even if he doesn't win.  The fact that people are being quoted in the press saying they're willing to vote for somebody like Spitzer energizes both the Spitzer and Weiner campaigns, and puts both men in a more favorable public light than they'd have had staying on the sidelines.

It might not say much for the standards of morality New York's voters have traditionally considered to be relative.  Indeed, having people like Spitzer and Weiner think they have any chance of improving their image by running in the city says a lot about why New York has the politicians it has.

Of course, if they both lose, that may speak volumes, too.

Note:  In Yiddish, "platz" means "being unable to control one's self."

UPDATE:  Spitzer ended up with over 27,000 signatures, far more than the 3,750 he needed, although his competitors will scrutinize the list, and that 27,000 will likely be whittled down.  Maybe NYC voters simply want even more controversy to spice up this year's election cycle.

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