Many think candidates’ sex scandals don’t matter
By Sabina Mollot
In the 11 days since former Governor Eliot Spitzer announced his candidacy for comptroller, both he and fellow disgraced former politician, former Congress Member Anthony Weiner, have easily stolen the media thunder from their opponents, whose lack of sex scandals makes them and their campaigns, yesterday’s news.
Interestingly, while neither candidate has been able to score a single news story that doesn’t in some way mention their respective falls from grace, they still have, according to the polls, become the race’s frontrunners.
On Monday, Town & Village interviewed several residents of Stuyvesant Town to ask what they thought about Spitzer and Weiner’s attempts at comebacks and their promising poll numbers. Though opinions varied, most implied they didn’t care much about the sex scandals, and Spitzer was generally thought of as being a well-equipped leader.
Retired teacher Sam Bishop said he didn’t think Weiner and Spitzer’s post-scandal ambitions were surprising, “and,” he added, “they’re going to win.” The reason, said Bishop, is name recognition. “What’s sad is that the other people who are running for those respective offices are not known outside of their districts. They can’t break through the ceiling above that local level. Weiner is now a statewide celebrity for his improprieties. Somebody like Quinn is only known in her district. Stringer — no one knows who he is outside Manhattan and he needs to pull votes outside of Manhattan.”
Another factor, said Bishop, is that “baggage” aside, he believes “Spitzer is very well-qualified. Do I like him personally? That’s another question. Both of them are quite capable of a big comeback and they’re very shrewd because they sized up the competition. The public wants to elect leaders that are able to bring results.”
Another resident, Guadalupe Canton, seemed to agree, saying he believes in second chances. “Everyone should have a second act,” he said.
Canton was mixed on Spitzer and Weiner though saying he was more impressed with Spitzer’s record as attorney general and governor for investigating Wall Street than he was with Weiner.
“I don’t think he did much as a Congress member. He was loud and bombastic, but didn’t do much,” said Canton. He had even less love for opponent Christine Quinn though, blasting the mayoral hopeful as “Miss Lackey” for the man who still holds the job. As for Spitzer, “I had wished that someone would look into Wall Street when this nonsense happened,” said Canton, referring to the then-governor’s career-derailing hooker scandal. “If you investigate (Wall Street) you will find something and we’re still in a mess. I think he could keep an eye on the books of the city.”
David Burstein, a recently published author (Fast Future, Beacon Press) and founder of Generation18, a campaign aimed at getting young people to vote, said he also didn’t think the men’s scandals would make them untouchable in the eyes of voters.
“People’s memories have been getting shorter and shorter and the fact that they’re willing to give these people a second chance is a symptom of that,” he said. He added, “People have forgotten that Bill Clinton was reelected at the height of his scandal and that he was impeached. People have erased that from the portrait of who he is.”
Burstein, who said he thought there was no doubt about Spitzer’s competence as a legislator, still thinks that people are more likely to be forgiving of Weiner’s infamous crotch tweet than Spitzer’s hiring of prostitutes.
“What Spitzer did in a lot of ways was worse; there was a level of hypocrisy,” he said. As for Weinergate, “People have experience with (Twitter), maybe not on that lewd level, but people realize it as an action that could have happened to them. People have experiences sending the wrong text message to someone. So they sympathize. It’s better than misappropriating $5 million in campaign funds.”
Less sympathetic though was documentary maker Doug Block who now finds that he can’t think of Weiner “without laughing.” It doesn’t help of course that “he has a very unfortunate last name. We’ll never stop associating him with his little picadillo.”
Block added that he thought the accidentally-made public tweet that brought Weiner down was “about the stupidest thing you could possibly do.” While in his opinion, most pols likely solicit prostitutes behind closed doors, most people also understand that there’s no such thing as privacy on the internet.
“That was pretty naïve,” said Block, although he added that he wasn’t necessarily opposed to either candidate for their actions. “Right now I’m just a bemused observer,” he said. “This is a democratic city and they’re name brands.”
Additionally, he said he believes New Yorkers would probably dismiss the scandals as long as they think the candidates support issues they care about.
“They just want people to be on their side who are fighters,” said Block. “These guys are fighters because they don’t care what people think of them except what’s enough to get people to vote for them.”
Jerry Alperstein, a former teacher who keeps politically active by serving on Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s advisory board, indicated he wasn’t too disturbed by the scandalous past of Weiner or Spitzer and didn’t think others were either.
“Had Bill Clinton been able to run for reelection in 2000, he would have been easily reelected,” he said, “whether or not he had the support of Monica Lewinsky.”
However, Alperstein added that the current lead in the polls for Spitzer and Weiner shouldn’t be read into too much.
“You have to remember that the primary is in September and it won’t be until around August 15 that people start to focus on this thing. Polls are neither here nor there.”
Meanwhile, retiree Shirley Ehrlickman said she wouldn’t be voting for Weiner or Spitzer, dismissing them as men with “poor character.” She declined to discuss her reason for disliking Weiner, but said she already intends to support Spitzer’s rival, Borough President Stringer, for comptroller.
“I don’t have anything against Spitzer, but as far as voting is concerned, there’s another candidate and I’m a friend of his.”
Ehrickman added that she has served as a volunteer on a senior citizen board for Stringer. “He’s a straight arrow, very sincere and cares about the people,” she said.
Another retiree, who’s also a former longtime poll worker, said she’s also supporting Stringer, and Bill de Blasio for mayor. As for Spitzer and Weiner, “I call them the odd couple,” said Dolores Dolan. “I’m definitely not supporting either of them. It’s not because of their sexual exploits, but I support Stringer for comptroller because he’s more competent. I’m also supporting de Blasio because he’s a capable person. I don’t think Weiner has the temperament to be mayor.”
Dolan added that she thought the ST/PCV population’s vote would make a dent in the citywide results for the primary, which overall tends to have a dismal turnout. But ST/PCV residents, she’s learned, tend to be more committed voters. As for who’d come out on top after that, she could only guess.
“Spitzer’s got so much money from his family, so he might surprise, but I do think Stringer is more capable,” she said.