Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer would be capping an improbable political comeback should he prevail against Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer in the Democratic primary for comptroller on Sept. 10.
The two-term state attorney general was forced to resign as New York’s governor in 2008 after only 13 months amid scandals involving prostitution and using the state police to gather information on political enemies.
But the latest Quinnipiac poll shows him with a 19% lead over Stringer, even though Spitzer jumped into the campaign days before the filing deadline.
He said he simply has a desire to return to public service in some way.
“My record should be judged in totality,” he said Monday afternoon in a meeting with the Queens Chronicle’s editorial board.
“I have the skills,” Spitzer said when asked why he wants the job, and is the better candidate.
“I’ve run a business — my family real estate business,” he said. “It requires management and asset allocation.”
Spitzer said his experience in business and numerous investigations and lawsuits against corporate and financial institutions in eight years as attorney general give him a knowledge of Wall Street, finance and capital markets that is essential to managing and growing the city’s $140 billion in pension funds.
Like the current occupant of the office, John Liu, and Stringer, Spitzer said the office’s investment choices can sometimes take on the mantle of a broader social agenda. He said dropping firearms companies is akin to divesting from South Africa during its apartheid regime in the 1980s.
“Part of the fiduciary responsibility involves the moral framework we live in,” he said. “After the Connecticut massacre I called [state Comptroller] Tom DiNapoli about Cerberus [manufacturer of] the AR-15. I said New York State should not be making money off the production of semiautomatic weapons.”
He said the more common approach, however, is to leverage the city’s stock ownership to influence more responsible corporate behavior, an effort that often takes coordination and cooperation among numerous fund managers to get enough clout.
And could the self-proclaimed “Steamroller” and “Sheriff of Wall Street,” famous for his combative style, work cooperatively with corporate leaders, other fund managers, a new mayor and City Council, and the nearly 60 trustees of New York City pension funds? Spitzer says yes.
“That image is not always accurate,” he said. Spitzer said as attorney general he worked on big tobacco lawsuits and others that had all 49 other state attorneys general on board.
As to the scandals that brought his administration crashing down, he said he already has addressed them in the public record.
He replied that voters will answer the question as to whether they think he has the judgement, temperament, maturity and stability to hold the job as the city’s top financial officer.
“If I lose, fine. I’ll accept their verdict,” he said.
Asked directly if his effort at transporting a prostitute across state lines violated the federal Mann Act, Spitzer replied that investigations did not result in charges.
But he said that same standard does not have him walking back recent comments accusing Hank Greenberg, the former head of insurance giant AIG, with fraud.
“Not a single one,” Spitzer said.
AIG was at the center of the nation’s financial crisis in 2008. Spitzer, depending on one’s source, either convinced or strong-armed AIG’s board into getting rid of Greenberg in 2005.
A unanimous Court of Appeals ruling in June said there is enough evidence for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to proceed with a civil suit against Greenberg.
Spitzer said the city should be wary of alternative investments, such as hedge funds, where incentive fees that do not exist with products like index or mutual funds can often eat into investment gains.
He said one place where the city could invest, make money and fill a crying need in the five boroughs is real estate.
“And not just because I’m in the business,” he said. “Residential housing would be a profitable investment.”
He said that would bring income back to the city, all while developing housing stock that is needed. Spitzer said some of the profits could go back into a revolving fund that would continue the process.
“You make money while doing what the city needs,” he said.
He did say that the process would have to be fraught with safeguards to ensure transparency.
A handful of city comptrollers in recent history have found themselves in legal or ethical trouble. Two of Liu’s mayoral campaign aides have been convicted in federal court of improprieties related to fundraising, resulting in Liu losing matching funds for the race.
Former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman ran into problems running for re-election as comptroller in 1993 when a bank that loaned money to her U.S. Senate campaign was approved to underwrite city debt.
She was cleared of wrongdoing but lost to Alan Hevesi in the Democratic primary. Hevesi years later would go to prison on corruption charges connected with his illegal activities as state comptroller.
Spitzer said with all else, that should never be the voters’ concern.
“An advantage of being [financially] comfortable,” he said. “I’m not in this for money. I’m not in this for a lower mortgage or a car.”
In one way, all the scandals, investigations and tabloid headlines are another advantage when asked for something people don’t know about Eliot Spitzer.