Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner stage political comebacks. Redemption overload?

Not long ago New York Democrats Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner seemed to have killed their political careers with sex scandals. Now, each is attempting a comeback, but will New Yorkers forgive and forget?

Paul Drinkwater/NBC/AP
Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer with host Jay Leno during a taping of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," Friday, July 12, 2013, in Burbank, Calif. Spitzer, who resigned as governor in 2008 amid a prostitution scandal, is now running for New York City comptroller.

Two New York Democrats. Two sex scandals. Two attempts at political rejuvenation.

It wasn’t long ago that Elliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner – the former governor and the former congressman – had reason to hang their heads in shame, not only for their personal failings but because their ambitions to advance politically seemed dashed.

Mr. Spitzer, a married man, was found to have purchased the service of high-priced prostitutes. Mr. Weiner had sent lewd photos of himself to women (other than his wife) who he had flirted with on the Internet.

Now, each feels ready to reenter the world of electoral politics. Spitzer is running for New York City comptroller, Weiner for mayor of New York. The state’s primary election is in September.

In the mayor’s race, Weiner has pushed to the lead among a group of Democratic contenders. He edges New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn 25-20 percentage points among registered Democrats in the latest Marist Poll with the rest of the hopefuls trailing off.

“The Weiner candidacy has scrambled the contest,” says Lee Miringoff, director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “But, nearly one in five Democrats are undecided, and almost two-thirds are not firmly committed to a candidate which makes for a lot of persuadable voters.”

Most of Weiner’s former colleagues in the House of Representatives have rejected his request for endorsement.

"I don't think he's one of the most qualified candidates and I think his record is not such that we ought to be considering him for mayor," Rep. Jerrold Nadler, (D) of New York, said on C-SPAN. "He's entitled to run. I wish he hadn't."

On the PBS Newshour Friday night, anchor Judy Woodruff asked New York Times columnist David Brooks and syndicated columnist Mark Shields whether Spitzer and Weiner had the right to try and make a political comeback.

“Yes, but my rule is start at the bottom,” said Mr. Brooks. “So, I am little more pro-Spitzer.”

“If you are going to have a fall from grace, start at the bottom and work your way back up,” Brooks said. “Show you care about the service, rather than just rebuilding your reputation.”

“Don’t confuse the two,” cautioned Mr. Shields.

“Both of them were ambitious, young, nervy, loved cameras, loved attention. Anthony Weiner was a show horse. Anthony Weiner was a talk show creation,” Shields said.

“Eliot Spitzer [as New York attorney general before he became governor] was the only political figure in the United States who dared to take on Wall Street,” Shields continued. “And very rarely do you see a politician take on the deepest pocket, most powerful moneyed interests. And he did it, from Goldman Sachs on.”

“What he did to his family was terrible and disgraceful. What he did to the office was too,” Shields said. “But he is a different public servant. And he really deserved to be the sheriff of Wall Street.”

Being that kind of sheriff may have been popular at the time, but his more recent comments about at least one Wall Street titan have brought Eliot Spitzer a spot of legal bother.

On Friday, former American International Group (AIG) chief executive Maurice "Hank" Greenberg sued Spitzer for defamation.

The suit accuses Spitzer of conducting “a long-standing malicious campaign ... to discredit Mr. Greenberg and damage Mr. Greenberg’s reputation and career, while attempting to bolster Mr. Spitzer’s own reputation and career.”

Greenberg led AIG for nearly four decades before his ouster in 2005. The following year, the insurer paid $1.64 billion to settle federal and state probes into its business practices.

Spitzer, who has gathered enough signatures to appear on the primary ballot, where he faces Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, dismisses the Greenberg lawsuit as “frivolous.”

"I will be happy to discuss the relevant facts in the days ahead,” he said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

At the moment, Spitzer leads Mr. Stringer by nine percentage points (42-33 with a substantial 24 percent undecided) in a Marist Poll out this week.

Spitzer has said he would ask New Yorkers to forgive the sordid episode in his past. Will they buy it?

“Right now, New York City Democrats are willing to give Spitzer a second chance, but the big question is what happens after the shock value of his return to politics fades and the campaign for comptroller heats up,” says Mr. Miringoff of the Marist Poll. “Having just recently gone down a similar path with Anthony Weiner, Democrats may reach redemption overload for one or both of these candidates.”

New York City mayoral candidate John Liu says he’s “appalled” that disgraced lawmakers Spitzer and Weiner are running for public office again.

“They're going around asking for redemption while the women whose lives they've affected can never go back,” Liu said Wednesday during an online online chat with Daily News readers. “Ultimately it's up to the voters.”

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