Eliot Spitzer’s Signature Scramble Shows Some Weaknesses

Eliot Spitzer collecting signatures Monday. (Photo: Getty)

Eliot Spitzer collecting signatures Monday. (Photo: Getty)

Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer has less than 48 hours to finish collecting the 3,750 valid signatures necessary to earn a spot on the ballot for the comptroller’s office. And since he decided to enter the race at a remarkably late stage on Sunday night, Mr. Spitzer has been forced to hurry.

Racing against the clock, it appears Mr. Spitzer’s signature-gathering operation is showing mixed results, including the strains that come from using hastily-hired staffers as opposed to a well-trained volunteer army.

Columbia University student Eva Kalikoff, for instance, recalled an awkward encounter with two Spitzer canvassers on the Upper West Side.

“You are petitioning for Spitzer? I don’t like that guy,” a bystander on a bike asked one of the petitioners. “I hear you,” the canvasser responded.

When Ms. Kalikoff asked him if he was being paid to canvass on behalf of Mr. Spitzer, the man refused to respond. Walking near 66th and Broadway in the late afternoon, Politicker encountered similarly mute canvassers. When asked about her petitioning, a female Spitzer staffer reluctantly said she had been on the job for a couple of hours and estimated having collected about 25 signatures. A male counterpart refused to comment.

Some petitioners were a bit more forthright.

Ryan Davis, vice president of social news site Vocativ, encountered a young female canvasser for Mr. Spitzer near the Flatiron Building yesterday afternoon. Mr. Davis told Politicker he put his name down on Mr. Spitzer’s behalf, but asked the young woman why she was volunteering for Mr. Spitzer’s campaign. She replied, “I’m being paid, of course.”

Others took to Twitter to spread the message that Mr. Spitzer was providing lucrative incentives to canvas in the hot sun before Thursday’s deadline.

Metro New York reporter Anna Sanders wrote that a “frazzled” canvasser in the East Village said to her, “If you know any registered Democrats in the area, send them my way!” Later she ran into another canvasser outside of her local grocery store who said, “I don’t know how we’re going to do it either,” referring to acquiring the magic number of 3,750 signatures by Thursday.

Other canvassers may not have presented themselves professionally. For instance, Twitter user @WalkerFountain observed, “A ragged man in sweatpants just approached me in grand central petitioning for spitzer. So #spitzer2013 y’all.”

In an effort to boost his chances, supporters are throwing a “Petitioning Party” on Mr. Spitzer’s behalf this evening at the restaurant Sprig. According to its website, Sprig’s “Entire Space” only fits 130 people.

When Politicker reached out to the restaurant for comment, a staff member said they were unauthorized to talk about tonight’s event. They gave out a number for Mr. Spitzer’s campaign, which didn’t work. A Spitzer spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but said Tuesday that “many” petitioners were out working across the city. “They’ve got to just bang it out,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Spitzer’s rival in the comptroller’s race, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, spiked the signature football yesterday by announcing e had collected over 100,00 signatures in an “all volunteer grass-roots effort.”

Whether Mr. Spitzer’s operation can pull together enough legitimate signatures to clear the looming remains to be seen.

Peter Sterne contributed reporting.