For Comptroller: Scott Stringer

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer showed that he was ready for citywide office just a few weeks ago, when he announced his support for Mayor Bloomberg’s rezoning plan for Midtown East. With a Democratic primary looming, it would have been easier for Mr. Stringer to pander to the ideologues and critics; instead, he stood up for visionary change. That’s good.

Mr. Stringer is a capable public servant whose low-key persona and wonkish proclivities make him well-suited for the job of overseeing the city’s books. But there’s another, more-urgent reason to support Mr. Stringer’s candidacy. His opponent is Eliot Spitzer.

Bashing Mr. Spitzer is not pleasant; piling on is unseemly and offends our impulse to zig where others have zagged. But in this case, it’s necessary. And we’ll get to why in a second. But first, let’s dwell on the positive. Scott Stringer has spent years performing the unglamorous work of public policy and constituent advocacy. He represented the Upper West Side in the State Assembly for 13 years, earning a reputation as an irrepressibly earnest advocate for good government. It is, sadly, deafening praise to note that Mr. Stringer emerged from his tenure in Albany with his good name intact and no appalling scandals attached to his name. He must have been doing something right.

As the chief monitor of the city’s finances, Mr. Stringer would bring energy, independence and diligence to an office that requires all of those virtues.

Mr. Stringer’s opponent, Mr. Spitzer, brings to the campaign only a virulent narcissism that would threaten the everyday business of city government. It is impossible to believe that Mr. Spitzer sees the comptroller’s office as anything but a stepping-stone. Ambition is not in itself a political sin. But we’ve seen too many instances in which Mr. Spitzer’s ambition has crowded out every other of his considerable characteristics, including prosecutions that were clearly intended to punish and investigations that were clearly intended to harass.

Mr. Spitzer’s entry into this race has not been for naught. He forced Mr. Stringer, whose pace was a tad leisurely, to focus his message and tell a compelling story. In following this race more closely than any previous comptroller race in history, including meeting with both comptroller candidates, it has become clear that one saw the role as a safe, orderly progression in a career spent serving the people of New York and the other saw it simply as a way to claw back into the game. The latter might not be so bad, except for our concern that Mr. Spitzer would use the comptroller’s powers to launch politically motivated maneuvers designed not to improve government efficiency but to call attention to the auditor and undermine the new mayor.

The comptroller’s office requires collaboration, not high-profile confrontation. As the next mayor deals with skittish capital markets and skeptical ratings agencies, he or she shouldn’t have to worry that the comptroller will undermine the city’s case just for the sake of a high-profile political fight. Mr. Stringer understands this. Mr. Spitzer clearly does not.

Mr. Spitzer was a preening disaster as a public official long before his role as Client No. 9 was disclosed. The city’s Democrats should return him to political obscurity.

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