On Tuesday, Former New York Governor and New York City Comptroller hopeful Eliot Spitzer choked up discussing the "pain" he went through over the last five years with the hosts from MSNBC's Morning Joe. 5 years ago, Eliot Spitzer was driven from the governor's office after he was found caught up in a prostitution scandal.
"A lot of pain. A lot of pain … You go through that pain, you change," Sptizer said with tears welling up when asked to give a personal, unrehearsed answer on what has changed. Spitzer looked genuinely in pain and ready to face the public to ask for forgiveness. Now it is up to voters to decide if they are willing to give Spitzer another shot at politics. And he has a fighting chance.
Spitzer's announcement of his candidacy for the position of NYC comptroller came as a shock on Monday. It is late in the game to announce candidacies, and Spitzer has a lot of work to do in a short amount of time to secure his place on the Democratic primary ballot. To qualify, Spitzer must collect 3,750 petition signatures from registered Democratic voters by Thursday. He will most likely have to collect more than that to guarantee his candidacy, as each signature will be heavily scrutinized by the other candidates.
Spitzer is not the first and certainly not the last politician who has tried to come back from a sex scandal. In America, the story of redemption after sin is an attractive and powerful. President Bill Clinton saw his approval ratings improve after the Lewinsky scandal. Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who was disgraced for claiming to be hiking the Appalachian Trial when he was actually with an Argentinian mistress who is now his fiancée, won election to a House seat on May 7. And in the same city of New York City, former House Representative Anthony Weiner, who sent lewd pictures of his crotch to women on Twitter, is the leading candidate to replace Michael Bloomberg as mayor of New York City.
All of this indicates that American voters can and are willing to give politicians a second chance after a sex scandal. Not only do American voters find a redemption and comeback story appealing, they also are pragmatic: if a politician was talented, effective, and productive before a scandal, then forgiving their personal transgressions is acceptable in order to bring that talented politician back into public service. Capable politicians are hard to find, so why waste the talent?
One strange thing about Spitzer's campaign launch is the conspicuous absence of his wife Silda Spitzer, who famously stood by Eliot when he resigned from the governor's office. Reports indicate that the couple has been living apart. In response, Spitzer said "She is my wife. And we have three kids. And she's working. And we're going to be campaigning. And we're going to make sure we win this thing." If Silda's absence from the campaigns continues, it could show voters that Spitzer's wife has yet to forgive him, making it harder for voters to believe his redemption story.
If Spitzer can manage to scrounge up the political organization necessary in the next few days to garner sufficient signatures, he will be a leading contender in the race, especially if Silda shows up on the campaign. He has the experience and talent from being New York's governor, and voters seem to be willing to give Spitzer a second chance.