The crowd of reporters outside the Lipstick Building yesterday evening crammed close enough to Eliot Spitzer to spot a patch of salt-and-pepper stubble that the disgraced former governor had missed on the underside of his otherwise clean-shaven chin. Spitzer—who stammered a bit when a passerby yelled “ELIOT, YOUR DATE IS HERE!”—was on his way into a “petitioning party” at building’s ground floor restaurant.
The party was one of the tactics he’s employing in his last-minute bid to collect the 3,700 signatures necessary to run for New York City comptroller. It’s a position Spitzer intends to wield with the same prosecutorial zeal he exhibited before the “questionable payments” he made as a habitual john exposed the Emperor VIP Club prostitution ring and money laundering operation.
His other tactics include paying for petitioners solicited through Craigslist. We spotted at least four ads there seeking registered Democrats for a Thursday deadline. Spitzer denied reports that he was paying canvassers up to $800 a day.
“No, we’re paying based on an hourly rate. It varies. It’s here and there. Some are volunteers,” he said. He amended the claim: “Many are volunteers. Some are being paid, that’s the way these operations are being put together.”
Roxanne DelGado, one of the petitioners standing outside, said she found the gig on “Craiglist” and was being paid $12 per hour, the price advertised on the ads. “On Friday morning based on the hours you work, you’ll be provided with a check,” she said.
DelGado said she was instructed to pick up the check at a law firm office between 26th and 27th Streets on Fifth Avenue. That address rules out Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, the powerful law firm that helped Spitzer evade criminal charges after an investigation showed that he arranged and paid for women to travel from one state to another to service him.
Even without the check, DelGado said she would support Spitzer's candidacy, arguing that Spitzer's record as a watchdog outweighed his indiscretions. "I don’t support sex traffickers," she said. "If it was a young girl who was, um, taken from her family, exploited by force and felt afraid and felt like she had to provide him with sex favors, I could understand."
Minutes before Spitzer had arrived for the party, the Wall Street Journal released a poll (culled from a small sample size) that showed the ex-governor with a nine-point lead on Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer, which the paper said “could be attributed to name recognition.” Even failed talk shows have a silver lining.
Spitzer amiably answered questions in the heat, only getting testy after a reporter repeatedly brought up criticism from the National Organization for Women, which has been urging female voters not to support his campaign. Outside the steps of City Hall yesterday, NOW-NYC president Sonio Ossorio said:
“We need to be very clear that this prostitution scandal is not a victimless crime. His prostitution scandal is a crime, a crime for which he has yet to answer for. A crime that he has not been held accountable for. And Eliot Spitzer is not above the law.”
“All I can ask for, and I’ll I’ve ever asked for, when I was a prosecutor in front of the jury or the politician in front of a voting booth, was give me a fair shot,” Spitzer responded. It was at this point that he got heckled about his “date.”
When the reporter pressed on, mentioning criticism from women’s group about his lack of apology for sex trafficking, Spitzer cooly shot back: “Oh no, I’ve apologized often. I have with regularity. Next.”
Democratic operatives have also disassociated themselves from Spitzer's sudden campaign. “This is in the context of some pressure having been applied to folks who said they were going to participate to pull out. So, you know, that’s okay, that’s hardball politics,” Spitzer said, in a series of presumably unintended puns.
Inside Sprig, the restaurant where the party was held, the lobby had the faint smell of an expensive breadbasket. The mood there was jittery. Bodyguards stood at the entrance. A three-piece band played the kind of plucked, slow-tempo music that might as well have been pumped in through the loudspeakers.
Through the glass walls, supporters warily eyed the press, with each camp snapping smartphone pictures of the other. Earlier this week, Spitzer petitioners employed a series of bizarre moves to try to throw off a reporter, including asking to use the reporter’s phone by pretending he ran out of batteries and needed to call his mother.
Walter Pinn, a 50-year-old worker for the United Nations international civil service, joined the gaggle of reporters, listening intently to Spitzer. Would he vote for Spitzer? “Yes, absolutely totally,” Pinn said. “He’s independent, he has more money,” Pinn explained.
“That makes the whole whale of a difference. Look at the present one now!” he added, meaning Mayor Bloomberg.
After Spitzer walked inside in the safe embrace of his supporters, we got on the subway to meet a friend for dinner only to overhear the word “comptroller” on the corner of Bedford and North 7th in Williamsburg. There was John Liu, the current comptroller, asking residents walking by if they were registered to vote.
“On one level I’m happy that there’s gonna be a primary. It’s an important position and voter’s should have a choice,” Liu said, when we asked about Spitzer’s entrance into the race. “On another level, Spitzer? Really? I think the people of New York City deserve better.”
We mentioned the constant refrain of Spitzer’s record as a watchdog. “I mean,” Liu paused for a minute. “He broke the law and a lot of the people whose lives he affected are still suffering from what he did.” The prostitutes and pimps? “I don’t want to be quoted saying that, but I’ll say the people who he affected are still suffering from his action.”
As Liu moved to glad-hand some other New Yorkers, we asked what his first thought was when he heard Spitzer was running. There Liu didn't miss a beat: “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”