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With Weiner and now Spitzer, a new campaign tone emerges

Jonathan P Hicks | 7/11/2013, 12:15 p.m. | Updated on 7/11/2013, 12:15 p.m.

Election season in New York City is often utterly unpredictable. It is shaped by events that seem to come out of nowhere, altering, coloring and, at times, disrupting expectations of what the city’s campaign season will bring.

This year, New Yorkers have been treated to two such unanticipated occurrences in a span of just a few months. First, Anthony Weiner, the disgraced congressman who resigned over an odd Twitter scandal, entered the race for mayor. Then this past week, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer entered the race for New York City comptroller, just five years after he resigned as the state’s top official following the exposure of his involvement as a client in a prostitution service.

Let’s take Spitzer first. Much has already been written and discussed in the media and among political pundits about the possible return to office for the former governor, much of it deeply unflattering. A New York Times editorial proclaimed him–and Weiner–as “members of the Kardashian Party,” for whom “notoriety is looking like the quick, easy path to redemption.” Others have been equally scornful, pronouncing Spitzer’s campaign as being fueled by little more than an oversized ego, with him eager to return to the limelight at any cost.

Frankly, it seems more than a little peculiar that a man who was once chief executive of the entire state would want to be the third in line in New York City’s municipal pecking order. But, hey, a megaphone is a megaphone.

Similarly, Weiner’s decision to belatedly enter the mayor’s race was greeted with derision by some. Others simply dismissed his prospects altogether. Then, something bizarre happened. Weiner started doing well in the polls, rivaling or even overtaking the front-runner, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. And all of the sudden, there were stories in the press about how forgiving the voters could be.

Are these campaigns built on a deep-seated quest for redemption? Certainly. Are these men who simply couldn’t abide remaining in the political shadows, without the fervor of office to revel in? Of course they are.

Not surprisingly, Quinn denounced both candidates in one fell swoop. The question the City Council speaker and one-time front-runner asked is, “What have Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer done to earn that second [chance]? I would say, not very much. What have these two men done since their fall from grace to make it clear to women and men, for that matter, that their selfish, dishonest ways are behind them?”

But Spitzer and Weiner are hardly the first candidates to run for office with scandal and unbridled ambition thrusting them into the political fray. Nor are they the first who are driven by ego and hubris. But at the end of the day–or the end of the campaign–they will be judged on how they address the issues of a complicated city that has made it tough for working families to stay here, for unions to remain the champion of the aspirations of the middle class and for young men of color to walk the streets without being senselessly detained by New York City’s police officers.