New York's sex scandal candidates

Story highlights

  • Errol Louis: Spitzer making new bid for NYC comptroller; he joins Weiner in arena
  • Both had sex scandals, but similarities end there. Spitzer fessed up in his scandal
  • But Weiner lied, he says. Spitzer has record of accomplishment. Weiner not so much
  • Louis: Weiner in 6-candidate race. Spitzer faces 1 oppenent. Can NYers forgive?

The rest of the world is probably asking what's in the drinking water here in New York, where ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in 2008 when his hiring of hookers came to light, surprised everybody by announcing a bid for city comptroller.

Spitzer, dubbed the Love Guv by the city's tabloids, leaps back into the political arena less than two months after former Rep. Anthony Weiner (who'd resigned after texting obscene photos to strangers) announced a run for mayor.

Which raises the admittedly uncomfortable possibility that the city's top two elected officials will be two nationally-known, high-profile married politicians with less than honorable sex-related behavior on their resumes.

But that's as far as the similarities go. Spitzer and Weiner have very different histories, committed fundamentally different offenses and will face dramatically different odds in the few weeks left before voters head to the polls in the all-important Sept. 10 Democratic primary.

Errol Louis

Has the road to political redemption gotten shorter?

Start with the crimes. Weiner, whose scandalously bawdy texts and photos never involved actually physically meeting up with a woman, spent a week lying about the incidents on any number of local and national television outlets, claiming that his House of Representatives account had been hacked. That, in turn, led to calls for an FBI inquiry, after which Weiner's tower of lies collapsed.

Spitzer, by contrast, simply admitted that he'd hired hookers, apologized for his misbehavior and quit. He now campaigns without the baggage, which Weiner still carries, of having lied to the public and press repeatedly.

When it comes to the record each man brings to the campaign trail, it's not even a close call. In more than eight years as state attorney general and 14 months as governor, Spitzer compiled a string of high-profile wins in battles with Wall Street and prosecutions on behalf of low-paid workers. He also implemented a historic increase of state funding to local school districts and appointed the state's first Latina secretary of state.

Spitzer collects his first signature

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    Spitzer collects his first signature

Spitzer collects his first signature 01:57
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2011: Eliot Spitzer signs off

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    2011: Eliot Spitzer signs off

2011: Eliot Spitzer signs off 00:50
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Weiner's confessional interview

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    Weiner's confessional interview

Weiner's confessional interview 06:24
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Spitzer seeks return to politics -- as NYC comptroller

Weiner's tenure in Congress was notably skimpy on tangible wins. A recent New York Times story noted that, over a 12-year career, Weiner wrote exactly one bill that got enacted. He was a visible, effective voice on key issues, but not the kind of politician who immersed himself in the machinery of government or coalition-building.

But the biggest distinction between the two men, and the most politically relevant, involves their respective paths to victory. Weiner, running in a crowded 6-candidate race, is leading in the polls and, under New York rules, could get into a Democratic runoff pitting him against one of his rivals. He is currently grinding his way through a seemingly endless series of public forums and debates.

By Spitzer leaps into an all-but-empty race for comptroller that had been largely conceded to Scott Stringer, a longtime political insider who'd spent two decades in the legislature and eight in the relatively powerless position of borough president of Manhattan.

Spitzer, who is funding his campaign using his family's personal fortune, hopes to use his money, celebrity and impressive record to blow past his opponent to victory.

Polls suggest that about 40% of New Yorkers think Weiner's offenses disqualify him from office altogether; a comparable number may think the same of Spitzer. That leaves plenty of room for our city's famously tolerant population to decide if they can, or should, elect a pair of soiled, but talented, politicians to run the nation's largest city.

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