Scott Stringer Starts to Deal With His Eliot Spitzer Problem

Less than 24 hours after former Gov. Eliot Spitzer shocked the city by jumping into the comptroller’s race, his Democratic

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer deflects questions about his new opponent, Eliot Spitzer.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer today.

Less than 24 hours after former Gov. Eliot Spitzer shocked the city by jumping into the comptroller’s race, his Democratic opponent, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, deflected question after question about Mr. Spitzer at a press conference this afternoon on the Upper West Side.

“I think the strategy is really the same. The issue is, who is going to fight for the working people of this city, the middle class, the people who are struggling,” said Mr. Stringer, insisting that Mr. Spitzer’s late entry into the race won’t change how he campaigns. “This election is about integrity, as every election is. This elections is about choice, so there is going to be competition.”

Mr. Stringer, once running unopposed in the Democratic primary, stood with supporters and his wife outside a Fairway supermarket. Appearing at ease, Mr. Stringer took a different approach than last night, when his campaign fired off a statement slamming Mr. Spitzer for trying to “buy personal redemption.” Notably, he refused to say whether Mr. Spitzer’s sordid past–the former governor resigned the governorship in 2008 in the wake of a prostitution scandal–would become an issue in the race. Repeatedly, Mr. Stringer said the “voters would have to make a decision” about whether Mr. Spitzer was suitable for office.

“This is not a race about Eliot or me. This is a race about how we’re going to fight for this city,” Mr. Stringer said. “People out there are concerned about what this government is going to look like and who is going to fight for them.”

The even-keeled Stringer did imply, however, that he would be very willing to criticize Mr. Spitzer’s personal wealth. With only a few days left to qualify for the ballot, Mr. Spitzer has said he will be self-funding his campaign from his family’s real estate fortune. Mr. Stringer, meanwhile, has been participating in the city’s public matching funds system.

“I think the voters expect anyone running for citywide office should petition the Campaign Finance Board to participate in the campaign finance program,” he said. “It’s the best campaign finance program in the nation. Why would you, anyone, try to game the system and use personal wealth? I actually think, upon reflection, my opponents will opt into the program … it’s hard to run in New York City and try to buy an election in 2013.”

After Mr. Stringer fielded questions, he bounded up Broadway with sign-wielding aides, briskly shaking hands with voters. The press conference was only blocks from his West 71st street apartment and people on the street seemed to recognize Mr. Stringer, a lifelong politician who is not nearly as well known as Mr. Spitzer citywide. Again and again, Mr. Stringer introduced himself, barking “I need your help!” as if acknowledging that the specter of Mr. Spitzer had dramatically altered the dynamic of the race.

Paul Gonzalez, a chauffeur from the Upper West Side, was walking with his cousin and stopped Mr. Stringer to gush about how he and his family always votes for him. When Politicker spoke with him afterwards, however, Mr. Gonzalez said he was also open to voting for Mr. Spitzer.

“He’s demonstrated that he’s a knowledgeable person, he’s a fighter for the people and he shouldn’t be vilified because he stumbled along the line,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “Everybody makes mistakes. You, I, everyone else. He’s getting back up, dusting himself off. I think he’s still the same good man he was before.”

Accompanying Mr. Stringer was State Senator Jose Serrano, one of Mr. Stringer’s myriad endorsers (almost the entire Democratic establishment is behind Mr. Stringer). Mr. Serrano told Politicker he didn’t think Mr. Spitzer seriously diminished Mr. Stringer’s chances of winning in September.

“I think this new challenge is going to fire him up even more. He’s going to take it up a notch,” the state senator said. “Whether Scott is running against Eliot Spitzer or anyone else, he has always been a coalition builder, as long as I’ve known him.”

While Mr. Spitzer said today that he still considered Mr. Stringer “a friend,” Mr. Stringer, perhaps hinting at the more contentious road ahead, was unwilling to return the compliment.

“This isn’t about friendship. This isn’t about mea culpa time,” he said. “I’m going to talk about my record and vision. All that stuff we’ll talk about in September when I’m comptroller and he’s standing next to me, endorsing me for the November race.” Scott Stringer Starts to Deal With His Eliot Spitzer Problem