For Eliot Spitzer, the road to political redemption began under a searing noonday sun in downtown Manhattan with a jeer from a heckler about frequenting prostitutes.
“Very funny,” muttered Mr. Spitzer. Then he proceeded to take questions from throngs of reporters for nearly an hour, explaining why he thinks he deserves a second chance.
Mr. Spitzer’s tenure as governor of New York imploded in stunning fashion five years ago when it emerged that the crusading politician had paid pricey prostitutes for sex.
Now the one-time Sheriff of Wall Street, best known for his crackdown on the banking industry, is back – this time with a bid for the post of comptroller of New York, a job that oversees the city’s finances.
“I want the voters to listen to what I’ve done, look at the record that I developed as attorney-general, as an assistant district attorney, as governor, and say: ‘This guy understood the public interest,’” Mr. Spitzer said at his first event since announcing his return to politics.
“People have forgiveness in their hearts,” he added, as the heckler continued shouting.
The campaign makes Mr. Spitzer the second disgraced politician to seek forgiveness from New York’s voters this autumn – the other being Anthony Weiner, the former congressman who is attempting to shake off a sexting scandal as he runs for mayor.
Mr. Weiner entered the mayoral race in May and has proven adept at transforming himself into a serious candidate.
One poll conducted last month found that Mr. Weiner had emerged as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, leaping ahead of the long-time favourite, Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker.
Mr. Spitzer and Mr. Weiner can take heart from the recent example of Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina who in May managed to win a seat in the U.S. Congress despite the scandal surrounding a previous adulterous affair.
The confluence of Mr. Spitzer and Mr. Weiner’s campaigns is a dream come true for New York’s tabloids.
On Monday, they greeted Mr. Spitzer’s return to politics with glee: “Here We Ho Again,” read a headline in The New York Post.
A successful comeback for both politicians remains unlikely, but experts note the potential for a surprising outcome. “You have to assume there is a significant portion of the population that will grant redemption to these two guys,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a long-time political consultant. “This is the best political theatre New York has had in years.”
Mr. Spitzer, 54, made his career as a scourge of Wall Street. As state attorney-general, he launched high-profile probes into investment banks and insurance giants. He swept into the governor’s office, promising to use his combative style to clean up the notoriously corrupt state capital – and was even considered a future presidential candidate.
He lasted 14 months as governor before the prostitution scandal exploded. When he announced his resignation, his wife, Silda, stood stoically at his side, an appearance that helped inspire the popular television drama The Good Wife. Mr. Spitzer said on Monday that his wife and his three daughters – now ranging in age from 19 to 23 – were supportive of his campaign.
In recent years, he has hosted television programs, taught at a local university and helped out at the family business (his father is a wealthy real estate developer). But the political bug never left him. “Do you miss it? Of course,” he said in an interview with The Globe back in 2010.
On Monday, he portrayed the comptroller’s office as perch from which he could shake up corporate America, particularly since it oversees investment decisions for the city’s large public pension funds.
Mr. Spitzer’s first public appearance gave a hint of the circus-like atmosphere that will accompany his campaign. A crush of reporters thronged him as he made his way through a city park, ostensibly to collect signatures in order to get his name on the ballot.
The few hecklers were outnumbered by vocal expressions of support: Several people darted into the media throng to shake Mr. Spitzer’s hand, wish him well or seek an autograph.
“Good luck, Eliot!” shouted Barbara Dyer, 54, as Mr. Spitzer passed by a farmers’ market with stalls offering local produce and handmade cheese.
“I think he was a good governor,” Ms. Dyer elaborated as she shopped for vegetables. “He did an embarrassingly stupid thing. I forgive him.”