NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Eliot Spitzer, whose 2008 resignation as New York’s governor amid a prostitution scandal provided no shortage of fuel for gibes to late-night TV comics, ventured into the lion’s den Friday, appearing on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Spitzer appeared on Leno’s show in California less than 24 hours after a four-day flurry of canvassing for 3,750 valid petitions to run for city comptroller – submitting more than 27,000 signatures to the city Board of Elections late Thursday night ahead of a midnight deadline.
And Leno, who has poked at Spitzer’s reentrance to New York City’s politics since the former attorney general announced Sunday he was running to be the city’s comptroller, asked him straight up: “Why enter at the 11th hour?”
Spitzer said that after all he’d done in the past five years he finally thought, “You know what, there’s a position there, which I’ve written about, thought about, the Comptroller’s position, from which I think I can actually serve,” he said. “And I said to myself I want to contribute through public service.”
Leno’s show has provided a stage before for candidates launching unexpected campaigns: Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his ultimately successful run for California governor on Leno’s set in 2003. The program also has been a memorable forum for public figures’ atonement moments, as when actor Hugh Grant made his first TV appearance after he was arrested with a prostitute in 1995.
The nationally televised appearance came a day after Spitzer’s goal of a political comeback following his fall from grace continues on.
The disgraced former governor assured his spot on the primary ballot for New York City Comptroller and Democratic opponent Scott Stringer has decided not to challenge the nominating petitions.
“It is an important statement to those who said it was not possible,” Spitzer told reporters including WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane after submitting his petitions.
Spitzer only announced his intention to run for the post on Sunday.
“I am not afraid of this fight; bring it on,” he said.
As CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported, Stringer meant it when he said “bring it on.”
While he insisted he wasn’t going to talk about the prostitution scandal that forced Spitzer to resign as governor five years ago, Stringer delivered a right hook to the jaw about his view of Spitzer’s stewardship of the state.
“Did you see how this state was run when he was governor? The mismanagement the anger management issues?” Stringer said. “Look at that governorship. All that promise all blew up because he couldn’t work with people, he didn’t understand how to manage people.”
Spitzer was out of town for a taping of “The Tonight Show” in Los Angeles, but his spokeswoman issued the following statement:
“Eliot is thankful to all the New Yorkers who signed petitions granting him a place on the ballot. He looks forward to making the case every day for an independent comptroller for the City of New York.”
Stringer, who had been running unopposed for the Democratic nomination until Spitzer joined the race, spent the day on Friday campaigning in Brooklyn.
“He’s on Leno tonight and that’s a mistake. Because he really should have been with the New York guy, Letterman. And that’s another issue – you can like the national spotlight, but at the end of the day it comes down to working people, the middle class people,” said Stringer.
Before he left for California, Spitzer was asked about the criticism he’s facing.
“I’m not even going to dignify that,” said the former governor.
Sources told Kramer that Stringer was advised not to challenge Spitzer’s petitions unless he thought he could knock him off the ballot.
Since 27,000 New Yorkers – seven times more than required – signed Spitzer’s nominating petitions, the chance of taking him down in this round was slim and would have been costly.
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