NYC Comptroller Race: Can Eliot Spitzer Be Trusted to Do a Good Job?

According to the New York Post, which endorsed Scott Stringer for comptroller on Saturday, Eliot Spitzer is not up to the task. To add insult to injury, the Post also ran a front-page picture of Spitzer in boxers and horrible calf-length socks, a tasteless reference to the sordid detail that Spitzer left his socks on during sex with call girls.

Like Mark Sanford and Anthony Weiner, Spitzer wants to jump back on the second-chances bandwagon, and put the sex scandal behind him. But not all sex scandals are created equal. (As we all know, President Clinton is in a class by himself). Spitzer didn't just keep doing his job as governor while carrying on a little hanky-panky on the side. Rather, he built his professional reputation as the “Sheriff of Wall Street” during his tenure as New York State's attorney general and was known for breaking up high-end prostitution rings. Can you really expect New Yorkers to take Spitzer seriously after the revelation that he benefited from the services of a profession he used to prosecute?

The details of Spitzer’s scandal, which broke in spring 2008, were particularly damning: Spitzer arranged for a call girl to travel via Amtrak from New York to D.C., implying his preference for organization and planning. It’s disturbing to know that Spitzer used taxpayer money to go to such lengths. What would he do if he got his hands on taxpayer money for a second time? Additionally, it is not clear why Spitzer had to have someone brought in from out of town and across state lines.  Were the D.C. hookers not up to his standards? Or were they all busy? Spitzer’s scandal raises too many questions that potential voters don’t want to know the answers to, leaving a bad taste in their mouths.

For some reason, there seem to be some sex scandals that voters can forgive and some that they can’t. Despite the Lewinsky scandal, President Clinton was able to secure a second term and leave the office with high approval ratings. The farcical New York Post picture of Spitzer shows, on the other hand, that his actions have neither been forgotten nor forgiven. Public opinion of him hasn’t changed, which is a shame given Spitzer was a competent prosecutor and a very able governor. But that is the cost of a sex scandal: It distracts voters from the important issues by highlighting lurid details of his affairs and erasing the memory of a stellar track record in public service. Unfortunately for Spitzer, what complicates his return to politics is the intersection between his life as a public servant and his personal habits — they are too closely connected for New Yorkers to trust Spitzer not to succumb to his weaknesses while in office.

Despite Spitzer’s best efforts, a comeback may not be in the cards. As much as he may not want to admit it, the zenith of his political career has passed.