Editorial: The Spitzer Sideshow

When Eliot Spitzer left Albany in disgrace five years ago, there wasn’t a wet eye to be found on State Street. During his short and unremarkable tenure in Albany, Mr. Spitzer was as popular as a Yankees fan sitting atop the Green Monster.

And just as smug. The man was convinced of his own superiority and righteousness, treating colleagues as either felons in waiting or knuckle-dragging Neanderthals. Small wonder that the Spitzer years are best remembered for the tawdry way they ended, rather than for any real achievements.

Mr. Spitzer is now looking to become New York’s answer to Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina governor who left office to spend more time with his Argentine mistress. Mr. Sanford, of course, recently completed a remarkable political comeback by winning election to the House of Representatives after asking voters to forgive his sins.

Mr. Spitzer says that he too hopes voters will overlook the past. “I’m hopeful there will be forgiveness,” he said. “I am asking for it.” Forgiveness for what? For carrying on with a top-shelf hooker in Washington? Only Silda Spitzer, the former governor’s wife, has the power to grant absolution for that offense.

Mr. Spitzer’s shadowy existence as Client No. 9 is just one of many failings for which he must answer. As state attorney general and then as governor, Mr. Spitzer was a self-righteous prig who could shatter a financial house with a single sneer. He wasn’t the first to criminalize the behavior of financiers, but he surely was among those who perfected it.

With his father’s money, he purchased high office posing as a Park Avenue populist. But once in power, Mr. Spitzer managed to offend just about everyone, including fellow Democrats, with his smug contempt for those who trafficked in the tawdry business of legislating. He was better than they were, and much smarter, too. And he was not shy about advertising his moral and intellectual superiority.

And so, when he was exposed as a hypocrite, there were few tears and no fond farewells from Albany.

Now the question is whether New York City voters will take him back, this time as city comptroller. It’s an open seat, because incumbent Comptroller John Liu is running for mayor—as an aside, it bears noting that Mr. Liu has yet to ask for forgiveness despite the conviction of two close aides on fraud charges.

With Mr. Spitzer’s surprise announcement, a municipal election season that figured to be a referendum on the last 20 years of adult supervision in City Hall is turning into a carnival. Just a few weeks ago, former Congressman Anthony Weiner—another politician with an elevated view of his own importance—entered the mayoral race after having left Congress because he took a picture of his girded loins, shared it with an online admirer and then lied about it. Mr. Weiner, too, seeks the forgiveness of voters.

It’s impossible to rule out the possibility that one or both of these disgraced pols will emerge victorious in November. In the meantime, a campaign that ought to be focused on the fiscal and political challenges of the coming years will instead focus on two personalities in search of character.

It’s all about Eliot and Anthony. Just ask them.