By Michael Gormley
ALBANY— Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer said Monday he and his family made an emotional decision to return to politics, this time running for the New York City comptroller's office, years after he was caught in a prostitution scandal that culminated in one of politics' steepest falls from power.
"Politics is a contact sport, and I made it harder, but I hope when we look back we see this was the right decision," Spitzer told The Associated Press. "The peaks I've seen are wonderful, the valleys I've seen are more important in terms of personal growth."
Returning to public service after more than six years in the political wilderness was difficult for Spitzer, who never hid from the spotlight and even joked about his mistakes on camera and at political events. His wife, Silda, whose shaken image at Spitzer's side during his resignation speech was carried globally, also returned to life in the public eye, attending charity fundraisers months after the scandal.
The Democrat planned to meet voters Monday in New York, a city where voters have a record of forgiving those who have fallen from grace. Spitzer also brings his own comeback experience: In 1994, he was trounced while seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general, then drove thousands of miles statewide to visit local political leaders and influential groups en route to winning the attorney general's office in 1998. He transformed the office and became known as the sheriff of Wall Street.
"I love public service," Spitzer said in an interview. "This is a great job that has untapped potential, just as I saw the attorney general's office and said we could do more. I think more can be done as city comptroller."
He said he would focus on public policy discussions, the city budget and corporate governance, much as he did as state attorney general for two terms before he was elected governor in 2006. He wrote a book on improving the governance of corporations, which is due out in a week.
The key to improving corporate governance comes from within, as a major shareholder, Spitzer said. The city pension fund is a major investor in many of the world's biggest companies.
"You can't regulate or prosecute your way to governing corporations better," he said Monday.
He said he would use the city pension's shareholder to force changes in how corporations operate. He said he will also use the comptroller's voice "not just for auditing the city budget, but to make sure the politics are working, not just that the paper clips are counted."
"There is also the oversight role in the budget, which his critically important," Spitzer said. "We have a lot of tough decisions to make."
He said he has no plans for office beyond city comptroller.
"I want to focus in doing this job the best I can," Spitzer said. "Winning this race is going to be tough enough."
Spitzer will collect petition signatures during the midday appearance in Manhattan's Union Square. Candidates for citywide offices like comptroller have to have 3,750 signatures from registered voters in their party by Thursday.
Spitzer has spoken in the past about the potential for the comptroller's job to look into corporate misdeeds. Since his resignation, the married father of three has returned to public life as a commentator, with shows on CNN, Current TV and NY1.
He said he hoped city voters would give him a chance.
"I'm hopeful there will be forgiveness, I am asking for it," he told The New York Times, which first reported his run on Sunday.
Spitzer reiterated the theme Monday on WCBS television, saying he had "sinned," ''owned up to it" and hopes the public will judge him on his record in public service.
He said he'd discussed his potential run with his wife and daughters before making the decision over the weekend.
He conceded that getting back into politics under the circumstances will require "skin as thick as a rhinoceros."
Current Comptroller John Liu is running for mayor.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has been the most prominent among the contenders to become New York City's next fiscal chief. He's raised more than $3.5 million and spent about $566,000, city campaign finance records show, while his opponents have yet to report any fundraising or spending.
They include Republican John Burnett, who has worked on Wall Street in various finance capacities and just recently declared his candidacy; Green Party candidate Julia Willebrand, a former teacher; and former madam Kristin Davis. Davis once ran three escort services and claims to have provided hookers to Spitzer, which hasn't been proven.
Spitzer carries a lot of baggage from his abbreviated term as governor, including a scandal in which some of his top aides were charged with ethics violations in what became known as "trooper gate." He also pushed for providing driver's licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally, a bold move for the time that helped turn Democrats statewide against him.
"There's no question that he enters the race more well known to voters than Scott Stringer; however, that does not necessarily translate into votes among Democratic primary voters," said Steven Greenberg of the Siena College poll. "I think it's likely that he will be the initial front-runner in polls in the next few weeks. It will be interesting to see come primary day whether voters are prepared to provide Spitzer with a chance at redemption or if they think he should remain on the political sidelines."
Spitzer is not the only politician who's looking for a second chance.
Former Rep. Anthony Weiner is running for mayor. The former Democratic congressman left office two years ago amid a scandal over his tweets.