Why Eliot Spitzer should challenge Kirsten Gillibrand

His political rehab is way ahead of schedule and it will be years before the stars are aligned for him like this

Topics: 2010 Elections, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., New York, U.S. Senate,

Why Eliot Spitzer should challenge Kirsten GillibrandSen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y) and former N.Y. governor Eliot Spitzer.

It’s clear that Eliot Spitzer has made a political comeback his priority, moving aggressively and deliberately to restore his public profile, and pointedly refusing to rule out another run for office.

Now the question is: Will he cash in his surprisingly positive reception by running this year for the only available office that fits his stature, the U.S. Senate — one he would probably win? Or, will he heed “sensible” advice and let some more time pass before testing the electoral waters, only to find every door blocked?

Spitzer has certainly picked a bold and novel path back to the limelight, cooperating with a documentary film by director Alex Gibney, linked to Peter Elkind’s unsparing book about his fall from grace, “Rough Justice,” and launching an out-of-nowhere attack this past weekend on Andrew Cuomo, his Democratic successor as state attorney general and the all-but-certain winner of this year’s governor’s race.

The Spitzer for Senate idea was raised earlier this year. A small boomlet took brief shape in February, when a New York Daily News piece by Mark Greenbaum laid out a clear-cut rationale for such a race: Kirsten Gillibrand, the appointed senator, is uncommonly weak; a garish string of political sex scandals has made Spitzer’s moral lapse seem almost tame; and most crucially, Spitzer’s record of taking on Wall Street matches the current moment perfectly.

New Yorkers expect their senators to be heavyweights, like Bobby Kennedy, Jacob Javits, Pat Moynihan, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer. Gillibrand clearly isn’t that, at least in the voters’ eyes. A one-term, moderate upstate congresswoman before Gov. David Paterson picked her to replace Clinton, she’s had massive assistance from her mentor Schumer, from many of Clinton’s ex-staffers, and from the Obama White House, which strong-armed several eager top-tier Democratic challengers out of her way.



Despite these advantages, Gillibrand’s brief performance in office has been mocked and criticized, and her ratings are stalled. She is winning only by default. A bizarre near-challenge from former Tennessee congressman (and occasional New Yorker) Harold Ford and an even more far-fetched trial balloon from billionaire Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman only served to showcase her vulnerability.

Spitzer is probably well-suited to the Senate, where his crusading zeal, knowledge of finance, and legal background might play much better than in the Albany statehouse. He could have a long career as a committee chair and shaper of legislation, and achieve a personal rehabilitation to rival Ted Kennedy’s.

But apart from his strengths in a September primary against Gillibrand, it’s Spitzer’s utter lack of other options in the foreseeable future that should tip him toward what would be a spellbinding return to the campaign trail.

Spitzer is rumored to be considering a race for state comptroller. Though plausible — the office has been tainted by scandal, and Spitzer could handle the job in his sleep — what would be the point of running for that thankless job? It’s never been much of a steppingstone, and anyway, it’s hard to see Spitzer climbing the ladder back to governor. Despite some observers’ skepticism, Andrew Cuomo could easily turn out to be a successful governor who might serve three terms, as did his father and George Pataki. (And then there’s Nelson Rockefeller, who won four times.) And sex scandal aside, virtually no one shares Spitzer’s view that his truncated administration was anything but a disaster.

And another chance at a U.S. Senate seat from New York won’t come Spitzer’s way after this year. Schumer is a safe bet for reelection this fall, and can be expected to run for at least one more term after that, which takes us to 2022. And at age 43, it’s safe to say that Gillibrand could serve for decades if she wins this year (although she would have to run for a full term in 2012; this year’s race is just for the last two years of the term Clinton won in 2006).

Spitzer’s legal transgressions also preclude a return to his old job of attorney general. Sure, he could someday pick a race out of left field — New York mayor in 2013, or perhaps some open House seat. But would those uncertain prospects be better than becoming a U.S. senator in 2010, two-and-a-half years after being declared politically dead? (Since Gillibrand is a fill-in appointee, anyone who beat her would take office upon election, jumping ahead of next year’s freshman Senate class in seniority.)

If he were to run, Spitzer would make some fresh enemies in his party, including the White House. But he is a bold, aggressive guy. His willingness to criticize a pit bull and rising star like Cuomo shows he has few qualms about offending New York’s limping Democratic establishment. And though few remember that Gillibrand’s protector Schumer made serious noises about running against Spitzer for governor in 2006, and later encouraged Nassau County executive Tom Suozzi to enter the race, Spitzer certainly does, and would relish the chance for payback.

To be sure, a sudden entry into the Senate race would be risky for Spitzer. Yes, it’s late. Yes, Gillibrand is a dynamite fundraiser. (Her $5 million cash-on-hand has scared off others, but is a fraction of what a competitive statewide race would cost — and Spitzer can self-finance. And with universal name ID, he could get by with less money.) Yes, fresh details about his penchant for paid sex would be brought up, though he may feel that the documentary interview and book have inoculated him.

But next to freak shows like Eric Massa, Mark Sanford and John Ensign — not to mention John Edwards, who will soon have to explain under oath why he chose to record a sex tape with his pregnant mistress at the height of a presidential campaign he expected to win — Spitzer’s a virtual poster child for how to regain dignity after catastrophic humiliation. (It helps that he managed to save his marriage — and that senators aren’t expected to be moral paragons.)

And looking at his dim options in the coming years, one could argue he is taking a much bigger risk if he doesn’t challenge Gillibrand. His brand equity as the “sheriff of Wall Street” is at peak value now, not down the road when both the issue and memory of his attorney general years will have faded.

Crazy? Maybe. But if Spitzer hopes to ever return to office, it would be even crazier to pass up a race that could essentially make him a senator for life before the year is out, a golden opportunity he’ll never have again.

Peter Feld is a writer and web content strategist who has worked as a Democratic political consultant and pollster, and was a market research director at Conde Nast Publications. He has written about politics for the New York Post, Gawker, Radar, Conde Nast Portfolio, Ad Age, Guest of a Guest, and Cookie, and taught polling in NYU's graduate program in Political Campaign Management.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>