Eliot Spitzer didn’t set out to endorse anyone at Monday’s West Indian Day Parade. But Mark Green had other plans.
Emboldened by last week’s New York Times endorsement in the bitterly fought Democratic primary race for State Attorney General, Mr. Green—dressed in glaringly white tennis sneakers to match his gleaming teeth—nudged his way through the marchers until he was right up alongside Mr. Spitzer.
“I’m marching just part of the way with Eliot,” Mr. Green explained as he walked the route among television crews and flashing cameras. “Symbolically.”
With the coveted Times endorsement now out of play, Mr. Spitzer’s blessing is the last, and perhaps decisive, prize in this final week of what has been by far the most competitive—and maliciously fought—statewide race. Mr. Green, who can be almost pathologically verbose, has privately told anyone who will listen that Mr. Spitzer supports him and detests his nakedly ambitious opponent, Andrew Cuomo. Mr. Cuomo, the front-runner, whose handlers have so far managed to muzzle his brasher self-promotional instincts, has made every effort to demonstrate that his highly public feuds with Mr. Spitzer—dating back to the time when the two viewed each other as inevitable rivals for higher office—have long since been settled.
“There is a reflected glory that they would like to capture, an image and reputation that has been strong enough to catapult him into front-runner status in the Governor’s race,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.
“They would like to be ticket mates,” Mr. Miringoff added.
For his part, Mr. Spitzer—the overwhelming favorite to become the next Governor of the State of New York, and this year’s undisputed golden boy of state politics—insists that he won’t be getting involved in their squabbles.
“I’m not doing anything in the A.G.’s race, and I think people know that,” he told The Observer as he prepared to parade down Eastern Parkway among a crush of supporters. “I’m not saying anything or doing anything.”
But that hasn’t discouraged the two candidates, who have engaged in a fiercely competitive tug-of-war for use of his imagery and voice in ads, and even for spots next to the attorney general at luncheons, press conferences or parades.
Mr. Cuomo sent out campaign flyers last month about his desire to fill Mr. Spitzer’s “very big shoes,” while Mr. Green has made the attorney general’s lawsuit against Mr. Cuomo’s office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development a lynchpin of his negative campaign against Mr. Cuomo.
The stakes have been even higher when it comes to employing Mr. Spitzer’s lantern-jawed, beady-eyed looks in pricey television ad campaigns, leading to almost ludicrously picayune arguments between the candidates over virtually every Spitzer reference.
On Sept. 2, Mr. Cuomo released a new negative spot, featuring a photo taken with Mr. Spitzer when the two men were endorsed on Aug. 27 by an association of black law-enforcement officials on the steps of City Hall.
In an extraordinary display of political bravado, the ad also cited Mr. Spitzer’s praise of Mr. Cuomo’s “tremendous work” on gun control—an issue the two men actually fought over bitterly several years ago. (The full quote from Mr. Spitzer actually made the point that the former H.U.D. Secretary had worked to “continue and expand the effort” that Mr. Spitzer, by implication, initiated.)
At the parade on Sept. 4, the ad—and specifically, that quote—seemed to be all that Mr. Green wanted to talk about. He insisted angrily that the ad’s use of the quote was “intentionally misleading” and left Mr. Spitzer’s side on the parade route to make the point to The Observer. “Spitzer and Cuomo fought over gun reform and didn’t cooperate over gun reform.”
Clearly exercised, Mr. Green then strode over to the attorney general’s side and began talking to him heatedly, arms flailing. Mr. Spitzer only shrugged, shook his head and turned his shoulders, giving Mr. Green the back of his gold “Grand Marshal” sash.
Minutes later, as he marched a few hundred yards ahead of Mr. Green, Mr. Cuomo bristled at the suggestion that he took Mr. Spitzer’s words out of context.
“You have the words of Eliot Spitzer,” said Mr. Cuomo, who was walking in a white linen shirt, near Hillary Clinton and flanked by his daughters and Green antagonist Al Sharpton. “Was Mark there? The words speak for themselves.”
These days, Mr. Cuomo has been going to great lengths to wipe away any residue of the previously spiteful and competitive relationship between the two ambitious politicians, which can be traced back to 1999 and 2000, when Mr. Spitzer, fresh in office and eager to make a name for himself, crusaded against handgun manufacturers. Mr. Cuomo, then President Clinton’s Secretary for Housing and Urban Development but already pondering a run for Governor in 2002, effectively usurped control of the negotiations, and Mr. Spitzer’s phone calls suddenly weren’t returned. When a deal was finally brokered, it was Mr. Cuomo who publicly accepted the credit.
Two years later, Mr. Spitzer returned the favor by throwing his weight early and enthusiastically behind Mr. Cuomo’s opponent for Governor, Carl McCall.
But all those bad feelings have essentially been sealed in a nonaggression pact between Mr. Cuomo’s and Mr. Spitzer’s campaigns. The two ambitious politicians now share a consulting firm, Global Strategy Group; an adman, Jimmy Siegel, who joined the Cuomo campaign in August; and an ever-expanding network of endorsements from elected officials to union groups.
Hence, perhaps, small miracles like the private photo shoot that the Cuomo campaign managed to organize on July 25, when Mr. Cuomo joined Mr. Spitzer in the State Attorney General’s office at 250 Broadway to pose together for a campaign picture that was featured prominently in a July television ad.
And hence the effusive, borderline-hagiographic language that Mr. Cuomo currently employs in discussing the man he hopes to replace.
“He is almost the definition of an attorney general today,” said Mr. Cuomo at an event on Sept. 2 at the House of the Lord Church in downtown Brooklyn. “When you say to people, ‘What is an attorney general?’, they think of Eliot Spitzer. And you’re succeeding Eliot Spitzer.”
Of course, Mr. Green has done his best to make the most of his own fleeting contact with Mr. Spitzer. On Saturday, Aug. 26, following some insistent lobbying, Mr. Green received an invitation to the Spitzer residence on the Upper East Side to take a photo that showed up shortly afterwards in Mr. Green’s latest ad.
Almost immediately after the meeting, supporters of Mr. Green offered a slew of motives for the photo op in private conversation and in the press: Mr. Spitzer was wary of Mr. Cuomo’s ambitions; he was tired of Mr. Cuomo’s constant exploitation of him; he wanted to give Mr. Green—the candidate he actually preferred—a much-needed boost.
Mr. Spitzer’s campaign said that the gesture simply confirmed the attorney general’s evenhandedness and neutrality in the race.
And Mr. Cuomo, naturally, agrees.
“I said I was doing an ad and I’d like to have a picture where we look decent, so we took a picture,” Mr. Cuomo recounted after the church forum on race relations last Friday. “Also, I understand that Mark’s story is ‘Eliot really likes me better’—I understand why he says that—but Eliot’s neutral. He gave Mark a picture; he gave me a picture first.”