The dog days of August have made the city streets feel like the inside of a blast furnace—but that wasn’t the only thing heating up the West Side this week.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer thought he was the only candidate in the city comptroller pool, but former governor Eliot Spitzer jumped into the race with only four days to get on the ballot.
West Side residents, who suddenly have to pick between two policy-minded Jewish candidates with experience, sought refuge from the heat inside Artie’s Deli on Broadway and 83rd Street, ordering cold pastrami, coleslaw and, yes, even matzo ball soup in this weather.
And Stringer, the hometown boy, is trailing.
“Spitzer is a brave guy—man, he has something to prove,” Greg Merchant, an Artie’s customer, said. “He’s going to complete what he started. He made a mistake. I think he deserves another chance. I’ll vote for Spitzer.”
A Quinnipiac poll released on July 15 found that Spitzer received support from 48 percent of Democratic voters while Stringer had only 33 percent of the vote.
Even those Artie’s customers who were unaware of the poll believed that Spitzer was the frontrunner in the race, even though he resigned from office in the wake of a prostitution scandal in 2008.
“He has a good chance now from seeing the news reports,” Bronx resident Laurie Kurlander said. “Personally I think it was too early for him to come back in, but I do think he has a chance. Do I really care why he did what he did?”
Spitzer has likely benefited from high name recognition—and a public that may be inclined to forgive past transgressions.
“I am of a forgiving nature,” Upper East Side resident Margaret Haynes said. “If we weren’t of a forgiving nature we wouldn’t have politicians anymore. In the past Spitzer was able to do some good things.”
But don’t count out Stringer too quickly.
Upper West Side residents have a deep relationship with the lawmaker, a former assemblyman in the state Legislature, and the borough president for nearly a decade.
“I have heard good things about Stringer, and he’s involved with the community a lot,” Upper West Side voter Martin Appel said, adding he was leaning toward Stringer. “I know he helps the tennis courts at 96th Street because I play tennis there. He’s been very helpful for Riverside Park and its environs.”
And some voters believe that what Spitzer did crossed a line—and that he’s rushing his political comeback.
“I think it’s too soon,” Queens resident Brian Brennan said. “He’s got to do more to redeem himself. I think he can’t be involved in the kind of scandal he was involved in and run for office just a few years later.”
Even the generally more tolerant waitstaff at Artie’s disapproved of the escapades that forced Spitzer out of office.
“I think he has a lot to do to redeem himself,” Artie’s waiter Luis Gonzalez said. “Some of the activities he was doing [were on government] time as he was governor. I have nothing against him running for another position—it’s worrisome, that’s all.”
Most diners at Artie’s said they were paying far more attention to the mayor’s race, even though they largely have not made up their minds about whom to vote for.
Spitzer’s entry into the election cycle has caused some voters to re-evaluate mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, who resigned from office in his own sex scandal two years ago.
“It draws more attention to the idea of politicians with scandals in their backgrounds running for office a few years later,” Brennan said. “In Weiner’s case it’s too soon also. He should lay low and do more to redeem himself instead of running for office so quickly.”
But others said that Weiner had a good chance to be the next mayor regardless of whether Spitzer had entered politics this summer.
“People have forgiven [Weiner], and they are ready to give him a chance,” said Kurlander, who said she would likely support Weiner. “I don’t think Eliot Spitzer has anything to do with that. I think they’re separate things.”
And Appel believes that Weiner’s past “personal and sexual mores” should not prevent him from running for office.
“I feel he was a very confident politician,” he said. “He was all set for a good run for mayor before this happened with the Internet.”
Spitzer and Weiner are testing the mores of the concerned citizenry in the Upper West Side—but so far, these famously tolerant voters have shrugged off their sexual foibles.
“Every man is entitled to a two- or three-thousand dollar prostitute every once in a while, and I admire his going out and spending it,” said Norm, an Upper West Side resident who declined to give his last name. “It’s amazing that people are surprised and don’t want to follow that kind of example.”