Eliot Spitzer had a really tough breakup with New York voters a few years ago when he got caught paying for sex with a (very) high-priced prostitute. There was disappointment and a sorrowful apology, followed by some much needed distance so everybody could move on.
Some couples therapists advise people trying to rekindle their romance to do the things that made them fall for each other in the beginning. First date was a movie and romantic dinner? Try that new restaurant by the multiplex. Used to go for long walks? The park is open until dark.
Spitzer is trying a similar tactic with the voters. Most New Yorkers came to admire him as the state attorney general who took on Wall Street excesses. Bankers despised him, but the public knew Eliot was on its side, fighting against one of the most powerful industries on the planet. He was fearless, and voters rewarded him with the governor's mansion. Before things fell apart, insiders buzzed about a possible presidential run someday.
Running for New York City comptroller lets Spitzer remind voters of what they really admired about him in the first place. He can return to the days of those long investigations he took the public on in years past, culminating with dates under the bright lights of television cameras regaling viewers with stories of vanquishing scoundrels for their benefit. If he is successful and the fire is rekindled, there is no telling where Spitzer might land. Gracie Mansion might be a nice place to get things back on track.
Republican Rep. Mark Sanford tried a similar tactic in South Carolina. He left the Governor's office and talk of his own presidential run under a cloud of disgrace after lying about an affair he was having with an Argentinian woman that broke up his marriage. After a short interregnum, he chose to run for his old congressional seat, apologizing for his transgressions and offering himself again as a champion for the people of Charleston and Myrtle Beach. They gave Sanford a second chance.
Anthony Weiner is doing things a little differently. Instead of taking a step back to prove his passion for service, he is trying to leap forward to the job he wanted before the scandal: mayor of New York. This is a riskier path, but there are people who admire grand gestures. Judging by his place in the polls, some voters are willing to give him a chance.
Mike Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani were both pretty bold; maybe that is a pre-requisite for mayor of New York. One New Yorker told me "the City is a tough place to manage" with big business, labor unions, bulging population, ethnic conflict and some very invasive media. "Anthony," he said, "might be the only candidate in the race who is enough of an assh*** to do it."
Maybe I've been through too much couples counseling (though some might say not enough), or maybe I have lived through the drama of too many political campaigns, but the parallels of campaigning to pursuing skeptical love interests are overwhelming. Campaigning is a personal endeavor that requires hand-to-hand contact, face-to-face entreaties and a willingness to embarrass oneself to prove devotion to the voters.
I remember the teenage anxiety of walking across the floor of a gym to ask a girl to dance in front of all of my friends and hers, my fate in her hands. If she said no, the walk back to my friends would be excruciating. Running for office is like doing that on live television in front of a stadium full of onlookers, with the answer posted on a Jumbotron and recorded in the history books.
Those of us on the sidelines like to talk about the folly and hubris of candidates like Sanford, Weiner and Spitzer, but one must respect the courage it takes to be embarrassed in front of the crowds in the arena and come back for one more try. Like the kid in high school, the only people who get to dance are the ones who walk back out and ask again. Everybody else just gets to watch.