Monday, July 08, 2013

With the stirring message that he's not Weiner, former NYS Gov. Eliot Spitzer presses his bid to become the new Mario Procaccino


The former governor certainly attracted a media mob on his first day back on the campaign trail.

"At one point, an older woman in a straw hat leaned in to the scrum around Mr. Spitzer and declared: "His wife and his daughters understand. Why shouldn't we?" But a few feet away, a man in a blue polo shirt loudly castigated Mr. Spitzer, saying, "You slept with hookers, and you lied and cheated on your family."

by Ken

Okay, now this is getting plain silly. Slept with hookers. Lied. Cheated on his family. If by magic one day every officeholder who met this description was magically removed from office, we would suddenly have one hell of a lot of unfilled offices.

Eliot Spitzer's problem, of course, is that he did these things, or rather wound up doing them, in an alarmingly public way -- the "public" part helped along, it has always seemed, by not-exactly-clean-handed political operatives on a mission to bring him down. Downright embarrassing is this from Christine Quinn, who started the NYC Democratic mayoral-primary season a commanding front-runner but the last I looked has fallen into something of a pick-'em with our other cumback kid, Rep. Anthony Weiner, and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson. Also from the report:
"The question with both Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer is, what have they been doing to earn this second chance?" asked Christine C. Quinn, the speaker of the City Council and the only woman in the crowded top tier of Democratic candidates for mayor.

She added: "What have they been doing since their dishonest behavior? I don't think we see all that much from either of these men that would put them in a position where they would have earned a second chance -- redeemed themselves from their selfish behavior and earned a second chance by New York's voters."
Really now, Madame Speaker, their selfish behavior? Imagine now an even more miraculous day when every officeholder guilty of severely selfish behavior suddenly vanishes. The decks, it seems to me, have now been pretty much cleared.

Not that my vote counts for anything, considering my long history of voting for losing candidates, but I had already been thinking about casting a mayoral-primary vote for Bill Thompson -- who you'll recall came this close to bringing down Mighty Mayor Mike in the last mayoral election, and probably could have if the Mighty One's public-relations machine hadn't persuaded everyone that his Money (I think MMM's Money really has to be capitalized) made him unbeatable -- and I found this reassuring:
A more measured take came from William C. Thompson, Jr., a Democratic mayoral candidate who previously served as city comptroller and readily acknowledged that Mr. Spitzer would be qualified for the job.

"Eliot served as a very strong public servant," Mr. Thompson said as he greeted commuters at an Upper West Side subway station on Monday morning. "Everybody wants to run, feel free to run."


Well, as we all saw, his teevee career didn't exactly take wing. Or actually, as probably very few of us saw. I mean, whose idea was it to put him on the teevee anyway? Attorney General Eliot commanding camera time to announce the progress of his investigation of important (i.e., rich) people, the kind who don't usually get hassled by public servants -- that was OK TV. But our Eliot as a constantly talking head? Imagine widespread sounds of snoring. Why, to get people to watch you would probably have had to put him on the air with the high-class hooker, and even then she damn well better be hot.

But a former NYS governor running for NYC comptroller?

It's not what you'd call a "glamor" job, the city comptrollership. At its worst, it can be the emblem of political hackery. And its worst would be a man who not only got elected to the job as more or less a joke (at least on the voters) but four years later won the Democratic nomination for mayor with a whopping 32.8 percent of the primary vote, slipping ahead of a slew of more plausible candidates, and going on to run what political commentator Richard Reeves has called "the worst political campaign in American history." And it's thanks to that 32.8 percent primary "victory" that NYC got the primary runoff law in cases where a city-wide candidate fails to get 40 percent of the vote, a law that is likely to play a crucial role in this year's mayoral primary.

Who was that remarkable man? Glad you asked. Because Howie wanted to be sure I mentioned one of our next city comptroller's most memorable predecessors: Judge Mario A. Procaccino.

Look up "machine hack" in your Political Dictionary, and you'll find Mario's picture. The hack's hack, who had been rewarded for a lifetime of hacklike Democratic-party servitude with a minor judgeship in his home borough of the Bronx, and happened to be in the right place at the right time (or the wrong place at the wrong time?) when the NYC Democratic machine had to do some big-time ticket-balancing.

It was a nightmare for the boys in the smoke-filled room: a Jewish mayoral candidate! Speaking of machine hacks, in 1965 then-City Comptroller Abe Beame had paid his political dues and was cashing in his chit: It was his turn for a crack at the top job. But how the dickens did you balance a ticket that was topped by a Jewish mayoral candidate? Under normal circumstances you didn't even have to slot a Jew in for any of the three city-wide offices. Was there any question how the overwhelming majority of the city's Dem voters were going to vote?

What's more, that year there was going to be something different on the Republican side, with the famously charismatic and liberal young Republican congressman John Lindsay making the race. That told the back-room political fixers decided that the way to go was conservative. They already had Abe Beame at the top of the ticket, and his politics were pretty conservative, insofar as a bookkeeper can be said to have politics.

Luckily for the back-room boys, there was an easy choice for the No. 2 job, the City Council president. At a time when the Sixties were beginning to become, you know, the Sixties, when there was already a backlash forming in the country under the banner of "law and order," Queens had a popular district attorney named Frank O'Connor. Get it? You got a Jewish guy from Brooklyn atop the ticket, so here you get an Irish guy from Queens, and somebody people have actually heard of!

But then, but then . . . .

Until finally one of the back-room boys remembered this pain-in-the-ass noboddy judge in the Bronx, Mario A. Procaccino, who had attracted a little attention as a knee-jerk apostle of law and order. Eureka! That's our guy for comptroller: He's Italian (another of the city's crucial ethnic minorities), he's from the Bronx (another of the city's outer boroughs), and he's a "hanging judge" (at least that's how he was known in Howie's and my circle).

The crowning irony is that in that strange year 1965, John Lindsay won the mayoralty atop the Republican ticket but couldn't carry his running mates. (Does anyone remember their names?) So Frank O'Connor became City Council president, and parlayed his new political weight into the 1966 Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1966, when he got creamed by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. (Eventually his party loyalty was rewarded with a judgeship.) And Mario Procaccino became city comptroller, demonstrating that pretty much any lug off the street can do that job.
Which doesn't mean at all that the city comptrollership is a nothing job. It can be and has been done by serious people. The comptroller, most obviously, controls the city's enormous pension-fund investments, which gives him potentially a huge amount of clout. And the comptroller, through his fiscal responsibilities, can at least try to enforce accountability for pretty much everything city government does.

And you know, there may well be more to our Eliot's decision to try to return to public office. Contrary to Speaker Quinn's impression, we may be dealing here with one of our more dangerously un-selfish public servants -- one who actually believes in public service. He did it in his first officeholding career, showing himself as NYS attorney general to have some strong beliefs about the public good, including holding powerful people to account for their misdeeds. It's the message he's trying to convey into all those microphones thrust in his face.

He told DNAinfo's Colby Hamilton that "he's look[ing] forward to using the comptroller's position to go 'beyond auditing paper clips.' "
He pointed to the power the city's pension funds have in the companies they invest in, as well as the ability to audit the city's finances as the tools he planned to use should he get elected.

He added that he wanted to use the city's top financial officer position to play a "affirmative and creative role" in the city, doing "to the comptroller's office like he did to the [attorney general]'s office."

Spitzer said he began thinking about getting into the city comptroller's race only "about 48 hours" before making his decision, but said he'd been interested in the job ever since leaving office.

"It was a decision based on what the office is and what I hope to bring to the office," Spitzer said.


Obviously the former guv knew that as soon as he made noise about making a race, the name that would be heard throughout the five boroughs and beyond was --


Actually, I've taken a little license here in suggesting that our new candidate for comptroller has declared himself the un-Weiner. So far, at least, he's been doing his darnedest to avoid talking about Weiner. According to DNAinfo's Colby Hamilton:
[T]he former governor isn't interested in comparisons.

"I'm not sure it's an issue I will address," he said.

In an interview with DNAinfo New York . . . Spitzer said Weiner's campaign was a factor in his calculations only as he "examined in great detail" the political field in the context of "the entire tableau in the political life that's going on out there."

Spitzer, 54, hoped voters would forgive him for the 2008 scandal that forced him from office.


At the moment, our Eliot is not wildly popular among NYC Democratic officeholders or party functionaries. His at-the-wire entry into the comptroller race (his first obstacle is going to be assembling the necessary petition signatures by Thursday) has caused confusion and consternation in one race everyone thought wasn't in play. Everyone was quite content with the one declared candidate, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

But then, Eliot's never really been a "party guy." Too independent. Which is a good thing when it comes to setting an agenda that for the average party guy might be uncomfortably disrespectful of established players. But also maybe not so good for a job like his last one in government, when as governor he showed that he didn't exactly play well with others. His short tenure has been largely obscured by its spectacular crash-and-burn, but some of us remember how much ill will he created among people he needed to work with, like the leaders of the state legislature, who not only didn't like taking orders from the new governor but frequently had good reason to question his judgment, something the governor himself seemed seriously disinclined to do, ever.

But the city comptroller's job might actually be a better fit. Being a team player isn't necessarily such an asset for a comptroller who questions both priorities and the way things get done. And he doesn't seem wildly concerned about the minimal institutional support he can expect, with most of that already committed to Scott Stringer. Here's Colby Hamilton:
Spitzer said his past experience in primary battles has left him confident in his chances.

"Endorsements don't vote, voters do," he said.


According to the always-reliable Borowitz Report, the disgraced former Italian prime minster -- "in a stunning bid for a political comeback" -- has revealed that he's "considering running for office in New York City." The report continues:
Mr. Berlusconi announced his intentions after several local polls showed him with a higher approval rating than the candidates currently on offer in the city.

For the disgraced former Prime Minister, the chance to start over again in New York is "like a dream come true."

"In Italy, you make one little mistake, they throw you in jail seven years," he said. "New Yorkers are much more forgiving."

Mr. Berlusconi said that he had not yet decided what office to run for, but was leaning toward public advocate.

"Once they see how good Silvio does at that, they make him mayor or governor, no?" he said, with a booming laugh.

Mr. Berlusconi said that he was unconcerned by rumors of a possible bid for office in New York by another former European politician, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

"Just let him try," he said. "Do I look worried? I am not worried. I walk down street, people tell me thumbs up. New York loves Silvio."

For a "Sunday Classics" fix anytime, visit the stand-alone "Sunday Classics with Ken."

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home