Don’t Be Surprised When Eliot Spitzer Returns to Politics


After Eliot Spitzer's sudden fall from grace (and office) a little over two years ago, the crusading governor known as the Steamroller disappeared from public view for months. Then, slowly but surely, he began to reemerge — writing a column for Slate, doing a few TV interviews, teaching a course at the City College of New York. By now, Spitzer is everywhere — guest-hosting on MSNBC, starring in a documentary about himself, and providing commentary on Wall Street and politics at seemingly every opportunity. During his reintroduction into the public sphere, Spitzer has constantly swatted away speculation that he may run for office as comptroller or senator in 2010, and at this point, it's not happening. It was a necessary choice: Despite his attempts at rehabilitation, a recent poll showed that New Yorkers aren't ready for Spitzer to reenter government. And yet, Spitzer has never ruled out doing just that at some point in the future. In fact, from looking at his public statements over the past couple of years about his future in politics, it's clear that he's become more open to the possibility over time. To gauge just how ajar the door remains, we announce the return of our patented Shermanesque-Denial Meter for another round of thorough political parsing.

When: April 7, 2009
Where: An interview with the Daily News.
What Was Said: When asked whether his reemergence was a "trial balloon for a political comeback," Spitzer told Michael Goodwin, "No, no, no. That has nothing to do with this."

He said the environment was "much too toxic" and that he had done interviews about the economy because "people are not really seeing what's going on in the marketplace."

"The notion that I will be running for public office is simply not happening," he insisted. "I'm just writing a column and watching from the sidelines."

Comments: If Spitzer's main reason for not running for office is the "toxic" environment, then he'd likely be open to the idea once the environment changes — say, after a few years of penance and publicity.

Photo: Wikipedia, Getty Images

When: April 18, 2009
Where: A profile in Newsweek.
What Was Said:

When I asked him if his reemergence meant he could run again for office, he responded, "I don't know if I could, but I can tell you that is not what this is about." For those not skilled in politician speak, note that he didn't say no.

Comments: "I don't know if I could" basically means "it's possible that I could."

Photo: Wikipedia, Getty Images

When: September 14, 2009
Where: An interview on The Early Show.
What Was Said:

Maggie Rodriguez: “I’d like to ask you about that rumor, run[ning] for politics. Can you please settle this once and for all, will you or won’t you?”

Spitzer: "I have tried, I have said I`m not getting back into politics and it is, there, there are many ways in life to contribute, there are many ways to be part of a community, to participate, whether it is teaching, which is what I'm doing now ... to write, to be active in charitable endeavors... ”

Comments: Spitzer acknowledges his previous claims about getting back into politics, but doesn't reiterate them. And he hardly makes it sound as if his teaching gig is permanent.

Photo: Wikipedia, Getty Images

When: April 15, 2010
Where: An interview with Fortune.
What Was Said:

You haven't given up on it for the long term?

I've never said I would never consider running for office again. But it's not as though I wake up in the morning to say, 'How do I position myself to run for office?' ... That's not how I lead my life right now. I've been lucky enough to find things that are important over the last two years, such as going with my daughter to visit a college today. Such as going on a couple of vacations with my kids. Things that — it sounds so cliché-ish — but I failed to do enough of when I was in government.

Comments: Notice the vast difference between September of 2009 and April of 2010. In the former, Spitzer says, "I have said I'm not getting back into politics." In the latter he says, "I've never said I would never consider running for office again." Clearly Spitzer has become more receptive to a future in politics in the intervening months. It may not be what he thinks about when he wakes up, or "how he leads his life right now," but it's clearly a possibility.

Photo: Wikipedia, Getty Images

When: April 28, 2010
Where: At the Reuters Global Financial Regulation Summit.
What Was Said:

Asked at the Reuters Global Financial Regulation Summit whether he was considering running for office again, Spitzer replied “No.”

But had he ruled it out? The answer from the Democrat was not quite as precise.

“I’m not yet ready to throw in the towel,” he said, joking (we think) that it’s like the goal of winning Wimbledon.

“You never quite give up on anything and rule things off the map. And so have I said I’m never running for office again? No. Have I said am I thinking about it at this moment? No. Did I love politics? Yes. Did I grow up at the age of 2 saying it’s the only thing I want to do with my life? No.”

Comments: So he's not considering it, but he's not ruling it out. Gotcha.

Photo: Wikipedia, Getty Images

When: May 14, 2010
Where: An interview on WPIX 11.
What Was Said: "I don't have any thoughts about running for political office right now. It is not what I am doing ... People have been encouraging me to run for office. I am flattered, and I'm thankful. It feels nice, but it's not happening," adding for emphasis, "I'm not running for comptroller."

Comments: Spitzer is, not very subtly, all about the present tense here — "right now," "am doing." He seems to be only ruling out a candidacy this year, and not in the future.

Photo: Wikipedia, Getty Images

When: May 18, 2010
Where: An interview on NY1's Inside City Hall
What Was Said:

Roma Torre: "Eventually, though, would you like to return to public office?"
Spitzer: "Am I ruling it out? No. I've made it very clear that I'm not ruling it out, but also I'm not saying to anybody, ‘I'm running in 2010, I'm running in 2012.’" Spitzer said. "This is not some predestined course by any stretch of the imagination."

Comments: All Spitzer does here is decline to announce the exact date for his triumphant return to politics, one that is clearly happening at some point.

Photo: Wikipedia, Getty Images