Voters delivered their verdict on comebacks in the New York City Democratic primary yesterday, and … it wasn’t pretty. Anthony Weiner finished a distant fifth in a mayoral race in which he had long since faded from contention, but Eliot Spitzer blew a contest for comptroller that just two weeks ago seemed his to lose:
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer won the Democratic primary for comptroller Tuesday night, ending disgraced ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s surprise bid to reclaim his political career.
Stringer had a 52-percent-to-48-percent lead over Spitzer in incomplete and unofficial returns, with 92 percent of precincts reporting. Spitzer conceded a race he had upended by jumping into it just two months ago. …
Stringer had argued that voters should spurn a politician who resigned amid a prostitution scandal. He offered himself as a veteran, untarnished public servant who knows how to work with others to make government work.
“Nobody should be elected to office who resigned in disgrace,” Stringer said at a candidate forum last week. “I have the temperament. I have the experience.”
New Yorkers seemed to agree with Stringer. They certainly did in the mayoral nomination race, where Weiner collected a whopping 4.9% of the vote. The big surprise is actually the failure of Christine Quinn, who fell to a distant third in the mayoral nomination race, gaining only 15.5% of the vote in a race where she led most of the polling until just recently. Instead, the more progressive Bill de Blasio may have won enough to get just over the 40% threshold and avoid a runoff for the nomination.
Not only did New York City reject scandal-ridden comeback candidates, it appears that they rejected their current mayor Michael Bloomberg as well:
In the race for mayor, Mr. de Blasio had until a few months ago been a distant fourth in a crowded Democratic field, well behind Christine C. Quinn, the longtime front-runner, who rose to prominence as the speaker of the City Council and a close ally of Mr. Bloomberg. Mr. de Blasio, propelled by an unrelenting critique of the mayor, frustrated Ms. Quinn’s painstakingly cultivated effort to become the first woman and the first openly gay person to lead the city. …
By contrast, Mr. de Blasio’s vow to make a clean break from the Bloomberg era struck a chord with Democratic voters worried about jobs and schools. Roughly three in four wanted to move the city in a different direction after 12 years with Mr. Bloomberg, an exit poll found.
Let’s just say that Michael Bloomberg had a pretty bad night yesterday.
Politico’s Maggie Haberman writes that the real lesson is not that comebacks are impossible, but that comebacks from scandal that carry the extra weight of hubris are doomed to fail:
Humility and likability are key
This is especially true of Weiner, who had a window of good will when he entered the mayor’s race and asked for a second chance. He claimed to be humbled by his transgressions, said he‘d learned from his mistakes. A campaign rollout video was the picture of a happy family, his wife Huma by his side on the stoop of his childhood home.
But a fresh round of lewd pictures and messages that emerged mid-campaign — taken and sent a year after he resigned from Congress, and months after he and Huma gave a blissful-seeming interview to People Magazine about their family — began a downward spiral in the polls that Weiner couldn’t stop.
But equally damaging was Weiner’s defiant attitude. It was his personal life, he insisted, and he had answered people’s questions already. He mixed it up with voters at forums and stump stops and got testy, repeatedly, with his media inquisitors.
Spitzer didn’t have another bout of scandal during the campaign, but there was plenty of bad memories from the first one to go around. His opponent, Scott Stringer, hammered Spitzer in TV ads and in direct mail over the fact that the ex-law enforcer had broken the law.
In the end, I think Spitzer can legitimately blame Anthony Weiner for his loss. Spitzer ran a tighter campaign and managed to offer some humility over his previous sex scandal — and dodge the more significant scandal of abusing his power as Attorney General and Governor. The clown act of Carlos Danger, however, made it painfully clear just how much of a joke it would be to reward either man with public office again, a point that might have been lost had Weiner not made such a point of pushing into everyone’s faces all throughout the campaign.
What’s next for both men? Spitzer can go back to practicing law and doing media analysis with at least some of his credibility and dignity intact. Weiner’s only option seems to be MSNBC, since he doesn’t have any other background except politics — and who’s going to hire Weiner to work on their staff after his laughable voter-outreach antics over the last few months? At least Weiner can argue that he’s not the biggest joke on the MSNBC lineup.