David Dayen: Character Attack on Spitzer Veiling Wall Street-Led Establishment Assault on His Comptroller Candidacy

Bill DeBlasio’s ascension in the New York City mayoral primary is something liberals everywhere are supposed to care about (outside the CORRIDOR THAT MEANS EVERYTHING, here in Los Angeles, we just elected our own fairly progressive mayor, Eric Garcetti, two months ago, but I guess it’s only in New York where one example makes a trend). From my perspective, I’m more interested in the Democratic primary for Comptroller, which pits Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer against comeback hopeful Eliot Spitzer. The polls have been wildly divergent: Quinnipiac has over the past week shown a virtual dead heat, while the Marist poll gives Spitzer a double-digit lead. Polling is notoriously difficult in citywide elections generally, and especially for downballot races, so it’s hard to get a full read on this. But Quinnipiac shows a racial divide, with African-American voters going 60% for Spitzer and white voters 60% for Stringer.

Stringer wasn’t supposed to have any competition. He was the machine candidate, anointed by the Democratic establishment months if not years ago. He bided his time and then took what everyone considered his rightful place. Spitzer upended that. And right from the outset, the city establishment tried to sabotage him. Neal Kwatra, last seen ruining the credibility of Eric Schneiderman while serving as his chief of staff, signed up with and abruptly quit Spitzer’s campaign during the signature-gathering phase, in an incident that really didn’t look like an accident. The goal was apparently to leave Spitzer high and dry amid a tight deadline to get on the ballot, forcing him at least to spend lots of money on signature gatherers (a process Kwatra didn’t set up before leaving) and drain his war chest.

Kwatra quit because the local labor establishment supports Stringer, along with the other establishment groups in the city, led by the local chapter of NOW. The New York Times laid this out in late July.

In reality, this is about one thing and one thing only: money. New York has become a true tale of two cities in the Bloomberg era, and the rich don’t want Spitzer in control of $140 billion in city pension funds, making him instantly one of the world’s most important activist investors. That would be too taxing on the executive class, and they and their friends stick together. So women’s groups or other big-money donors can come up with some “legitimate” reason to oppose Spitzer, but nobody’s really fooled.

Wall Street initially put together a SuperPAC, “Forward NY,” to funnel money to Stringer. Then, when it looked like Spitzer would win, they abandoned the effort. The big reason was that they would probably have to disclose their donations, which would give Spitzer something of a hit list identifying who tried to stop his candidacy (in addition, donors who also had contracts with city pension funds would be breaking the law, and the disclosure would show it).

Progress NYC, a labor-backed group, was able to raise about $450,000 on an independent expenditure campaign (Stringer has always been a labor ally; the SuperPAC is payback). But the ways in which big money has supported Stringer have been more subtle. Not just with endorsements, but through the endless forays by Stringer and his allies into character attacks, as evidenced by the final debate the other night:

(Mr. Stringer) went on to attack Mr. Spitzer for having solicited prostitutes and being forced to resign as governor in 2008.

“Nobody should be elected to office who resigned in disgrace, to an office that requires public trust of a $140 billion pension system,” Mr. Stringer said. “It’s simply ludicrous.”

Later, Mr. Spitzer criticized Mr. Stringer for not attending meetings in recent years of the board of the New York City Employee Retirement System. (Mr. Stringer sent a representative, which the system’s regulations permit.) […]

Promising that as comptroller he would “comport myself with integrity and honesty,” he added, bitterly, “Maybe that’s out of fashion, I don’t know.”

Passive-aggressive much? Sending a staffer to NYCERS is a far more legitimate issue than a hooker scandal, which has gotten everyone who mostly wants a payout for their Stringer support, particularly women’s groups, into such high dudgeon. Here’s a mailer from the Stringer campaign (which doesn’t have the decency to outright identify itself) intimating that Spitzer should be in jail. If prostitution solicitation is suddenly a disqualifying event, you’d think that everyone would stop working on Wall Street.

At some level, Spitzer had to know the campaign would come to this; politics ain’t beanbag. But the character attacks have been such a feature of the campaign that I guarantee you even close followers of the race couldn’t tell you what the NYC Comptroller does. And it’s not just the prostitution scandal; here’s yet another character attack, some oppo fed to the New York Post about an alleged loan from Spitzer to a Democratic fundraiser. They’re pulling out all the stops for Stringer.

The character debate is mainly a hook so the big-money boys in the city can protect the financial industry from a high-profile rival. We’ll have to wait until next week to see if they’re successful.

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About David Dayen

David is a contributing writer to Salon.com. He has been writing about politics since 2004. He spent three years writing for the FireDogLake News Desk; he’s also written for The New Republic, The American Prospect, The Guardian (UK), The Huffington Post, The Washington Monthly, Alternet, Democracy Journal and Pacific Standard, as well as multiple well-trafficked progressive blogs and websites. His has been a guest on MSNBC, CNN, Aljazeera, Russia Today, NPR, Pacifica Radio and Air America Radio. He has contributed to two anthology books, one about the Wisconsin labor uprising and another on the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act in Congress. Prior to writing about politics he worked for two decades as a television producer and editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @ddayen.


  1. Vox Populi

    Spitzer’s greatest asset will be Wall Street’s veiled attack on his character. People are willing to overlook a personal failing of someone who will go after real criminals–the banksters.

  2. Sam Kanu

    “…If prostitution solicitation is suddenly a disqualifying event, you’d think that everyone would stop working on Wall Street….”

    Spot on…..

  3. s spade

    Have never understood the love affair with Spitzer, another empty suit blowhard politician with only cosmetic interest in reform. Don’t care about his pathetic sexcapades but the reason to support his candidacy is what, exactly?

    Wait, I know, the other guy must be worse, right?

    1. charles sereno

      s spade, lost your investigative chops? You got the contract, put on your topcoat, and came up with…”after numerous hi tech surveillances, no doubt about it, this guy is a BLOWHARD.”

      Cripes! The markets are being flooded with non-paid intern, apprentice trolls.

    2. Dr Duh

      Back under the bridge troll…

      The real question is:
      1) is S Spade a garden-variety-works-on-stringer-campaign troll or is he a Team Themis sockpuppet?

      Hard to tell. Lack of wit and bite suggest bored contract employee doing his duty without too much investment. On the other hand, his comments don’t read like a scripted take down.

      @S Spade, are you a green badger?

      1. s spade

        You guys kill me. All one of these clowns has to do is give a rousing press conference and you immediately anoint him as a savior. That’s how we got BHO. Now we have Liz Warren, Mary Jo White. In two years we’ll have Hillary. Oh yeah, and I forgot Clinton.

        If a troll is someone who connects the dots I guess I’m a troll.

    3. Sam Kanu

      Wall Street is full of empty suit blowhards – all the way to the executive suites. They talk big, collect a lot of money for doing nothing. And then when their games blow up in their face, they run to the taxpayer to pay their bills. 3 months later, they are pretending to be geniuses again. Utter joke.

      In a nation where we allow such buffoons to be revered and overpaid, why on earth would one overlook these expensive human mistakes and run around looking to call one politician an “empty suit”. The real problem is he isnt in the pockets of the empty suiters, isnt it?

    4. Alexa

      I’d be a bit skeptical of Spitzer, too.

      Here’s an excerpt and link below.


      Moreover, and despite the enemies he had made among some conservatives, respect came from across the political spectrum.

      Hailing Spitzer as “the single most effective battler against corporate abuses in either political party” and “a fearless advocate for consumers” with “a great track record as a defender of women’s rights,” the website of the hard-left Nation recommended him as a running mate for John Kerry in 2004.

      [My Words: No surprise there–under Katrina, an owner/investor and Editor of “The Nation” since 1995, the magazine has taken a decidedly rightward tilt, IMHO. She and spouse Stephen Cohen are both CFR members.]

      The conservative “Weekly Standard,” for its part, ran a cover article depicting him as Theodore Roosevelt. “There is no Democrat more in love with the conservative theory of the investor class,” claimed the author, quoting the money manager James Cramer’s description of Spitzer as “the most Republican Democrat I know.”

      But perhaps the biggest factor is not personal but “ideological.” [My quotes.]

      Throughout his career, Spitzer has shown instincts and predispositions that would seem to put him in the camp of the “New Democrats.”

      This movement began in the mid-1980’s, with the involvement of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, as an effort to modernize the party by reclaiming it from McGovernism and, if not reverting altogether to the political agenda of Truman, Humphrey, Kennedy, and Johnson, then at least by forming a kind of “third way” between conservatism and leftism.

      Under the aegis of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), chaired by Clinton and later by Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the New Democrats embraced charter schools and economic growth, favored hawkishness in foreign policy, took a tough stance on crime, and were tolerant of if not friendly to religious faith.

      It was the New Democrat creed that lay behind Clinton’s proposal to “end welfare as we know it,” [my words: destroying a vital part of the original Social Security Act] his expansion of the federal death penalty, and his use of NATO air power to bring an end to the conflict in the Balkans.

      The same New Democrat creed can be seen informing such Spitzer initiatives as wanting to give parochial-school parents a tax cut in the face of opposition from the teachers’ unions, not to mention his professed admiration for Mayor Giuliani or his insistence that the Iraq war was winnable.

      This is the Spitzer whom Bruce Reed, [my words: Gag! Reed is presently VP Biden’s Chief of Staff–and we wonder “why” this Administration’s policies are so scr**ed up, LOL!] Clinton’s domestic-policy adviser, has praised for “pushing for a number of New Democrat ideas in Albany” and for being “willing to offer new approaches and break with orthodoxy.” . . .

      So, not to take away from “the good” that he may have achieved in the past, I’d at least be very circumspect before supporting his run for Comptroller.

      Not being a New Yorker, I admit that it’s really not any of my business.

      And frankly, I wouldn’t care in the least, were it not for the fact that I would be concerned that Spitzer might be “groomed” by the DLC to run for national office, at some point.

      And my concern there would be that he might be another Democratic corporatist vote for decimating Social Security and Medicare, through “reform.”


        1. Lambert Strether

          Hmm. A commenter who’s showed up very recently, seems to focus on one, very timely, political campaign, and has a fund of snappy one-liners but no real analysis and no linky goodness, besides exhibiting bravado about being a called a “troll,” almost as if that’s happened before…

          Well, suffice to say that Alexa most certainly doesn’t fit that signature, and a signature it is. Highly unlikely that Alexa will be called a troll. So I guess we’ll await the further nature of your contributions. Excursus into the meta ended.

      1. Lambert Strether

        It is true, that unlike Bush’s DOJ, Spitzer hasn’t actually put any fraudsters in jail; here’s a list of his cases. However, based on his track record — and the people who hate him — there’s some possibility he will. I would say that with Stringer, there’s no possibility; as another commenter pointed out, he doesn’t have the expertise, nor does he have any track record at all. As far as national ambitions: (1) I think banksters in orange jumpsuits doing the perp walk would not only be wildly popular, but sound public policy. (Can Stringer’s defenders weigh in on the likelihood of this tack from him?). So if Spitzer’s ambition leads him to that course of action, more power to him, say I. However (2) I would bet his ambition would be dashed in any case; a prostitution convicition may be something to weigh in the balance in Manhattan, but in the IA and NY primaries, it would be an absolute bar.

        So, Alexa, I would say that with Spitzer you’re likely to get the best of both worlds….

        NOTE As for gutting Social Security, and the rest of it: They all want to, all members of both parties (except possibly Grayson, and he’s not big enough to have been muscled yet). So it’s a wash whether Spitzer is being groomed, or Clinton, or Dean, or Warren, or whoever. For all of them, and I devoutly hope for their party, it’s too late…

        1. Alexa

          Yo, Lambert–thanks! ;-)

          You well know my “penchant” for putting in my two cents where it doesn’t belong, LOL!

          And your points are well-taken.

          I know that Spitzer was involved in a “prostitute scandal,” but don’t really know any of the details. (Except that there have been no charges of sexual assault.)

          BTW, I just “DuckDuckGo’d” Spitzer’s “Wikipedia” Bio.

          Apparently, he has a Green Party challenger.

          I hope NY residents will at least look at her profile and experience before they cast their votes. [Which is not the same thing as endorsing her–I don’t presume to know enough about her to do so.]

          Here’s a link and excerpt below.


          2013 Election For NYC Comptroller

          On July 7, 2013, Spitzer announced he was running for New York City Comptroller, and would start a petition the following day. 3,750 valid signatures from registered voters from his party were required by July 11 to register for the race but Spitzer was able to submit over 27,000 signatures to the city Board of Elections before the deadline.[115] Spitzer commented that he was asking for forgiveness, and hopeful that voters could forgive him.[116]

          Scott Stringer, who has been the Manhattan borough president since 2006, is considered the front runner in the race, having raised close to $3.5 million as of July 7, 2013.

          Ironically, Spitzer will be running against the former madam who was accused of supplying him with call girls, Kristin Davis.

          He is also running against Republican John Burnett and Green Party nominee Julia Willebrand.[117]

          Here’s a link to Ms. Willebrand’s Biography from the Green Party Website. Oddly, they haven’t updated it to reflect that she is running for Comptroller in 2013.

          Might be one reason they have difficulty making inroads into mainstream politics. ;-)


  4. EVmarc

    Stop Austerity and Frisk wall street bankers
    Randy Credico for Mayor NYC
    on the ballot
    support him
    or keep NYC banker occupied
    sspade-Spitzer was going to prosecute bankers
    till the bankers subsidiary FBI ran a sting
    not the first time they done it

  5. Michael Fiorillo

    If Spitzer is so antagonistic to the uncontrolled interests of Wall Street, then why is he such an enthusiastic supporter of charter schools, which have a huge base of financial and political support from the industry?

    Could it possibly be that charters, which among other things function as stealth real estate plays, are also supported by the real estate industry from which Spitzer’s family fortune derives?

    Yes, Stringer is the official candidate of the Democratic Party, but he also appointed Patrick Sullivan, the only energetic opponent of school privatiztion, to Bloomberg’s rubber stamp Panel on Education Policy.

    Call me parochial, but as a NYC public school teacher long involved in the fight against the hostile takeover of the public schools, of which charters are a primary vehicle, I’m voting for Stringer.

    1. charles sereno

      I wouldn’t accuse you of being parochial because you do have a legitimate concern about school privatization. However, you’re totally wrong about where Wall St interests lie. They are in a conniption about Spitzer and are already circling their wagons because they know he’ll win.

  6. Dave

    Spitzer was puttin the heat on Wall St and was getting ready to turn the flame to high……… Wall St did not like this and suddenly we hear about Spitzers proclivity for prostitution. As if they just happened to find this out…… more like ALL the bigwigs in State & city gov and Wall Streeters probably use the same services!!!

    Spitzer aka “sheriff of Wall St” was an antagonist to the BIG money people in NY.

    He was a threat to their corrupt system of graft/favors/campaign donations/machine politics/corruption.

    And by the polls it seems the machine party politics is winning the fight again to keep the status quo going…. in all its corrupted glory.

    We get the government we deserve

  7. F. Beard

    Is Spitzer married? If not then his behavior is just fornication which is apparently not a big deal in the Old Testament – for males (Adultery however is a capital offense for either sex). I’m assuming he’s Jewish? Then Judah, the ancestor of all Jews (except converts and their descendants), engaged in sex with what he thought was a harlot (She was actually his disguised, widowed daughter-in-law resorting to a desperate measure to secure her rights to bear children) and was not criticized for it that I can recall. See Genesis 38 for the interesting story.

      1. F. Beard

        I read both but what authority does the New Testament have with Jews? None?

        And why are supposed Christians hostile to the Old Testament anyway since it too is the Word Of God?

        If the Old Testament was widely read and believed by Christians, we’d quickly rethink banking and put central banking in its grave, at least in the US, is my bet.

  8. Jess

    If I was a New Yorker I would probably vote for Spitzer, but I have to admit I was a Spitzer skeptic long before his hooker scandal broke. I remember screaming at the TV when he was on Charlie Rose talking about how it was more important to get financial settlements and “make investors whole” than it was to pursue criminal prosecutions. Just a typical “cost of doing business” civil settlement. And I seem to remember some knowledgeable people saying that he gave Sandy Weill a pass by letting him retire instead of doing a perp walk.

    I have always believed that Spitzer wanted to talk a great game but walk a very narrow line so that he could eventually become president, where he would pull on Obama. I remember thinking that even before Obama bailed on FISA. It was just my gut assessment of Spitzer as a political player, willing to put on a great act but not willing to pursue criminal prosecutions, which to him must have seemed like a lose-lose. If he failed to convict, it would be a black mark on his record, a drop in prestige, and if he won, somebody truly important would go to jail and thus make him a permanent, irredeemable enemy of the financial elite.

    1. Lambert Strether

      Ugh. That’s the heart of the matter. No likelihood of criminal prosecutions, it’s all kayfabe. (I wonder if it’s too late for him to do a citizen’s arrest of Jamie Dimon? That would be a TV spectacle for the ages.) Got a link to that Charlie Rose interview?

  9. dejavuagain

    Stringer is wholly unqualified to hold any financial position, especially one as complex as the comptroller position for NYC. It would be surprising if he could explain a moderately complex balance sheet. This is his educational history “BA, Government Studies, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 1986”. He would not be hired by any one of his Wall Street supporters for any positions in their firms, especially one in a treasurer or controllers office — please, what is his competence? Could he smell a financial scam – I doubt it.

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