Weiner & Spitz: The Dynamic Debauched Duo?

Weiner and Spitzer, Spitzer and Weiner. Since the notorious Love Gov announced his candidacy for comptroller this week, Eliot Spitzer and his just-as-disgraced peer, Anthony Weiner, have been portrayed as a solid unit, a set of evil twins in the New York electoral landscape. One is seldom mentioned in the press without the other — despite the fact that they’re running for different offices that have almost nothing to do with each other. The mayor of New York is, well, the mayor of New York: There are few higher profile and higher impact jobs in the country. Comptroller, as Frank Bruni put it, is “drudgery and decimal points. Audit till you drop.”

Nevertheless, the press, the public, and the political opposition are treating the pair like two strains of the same disease. The New York democratic establishment even told the New York Times earlier this week that they regret not shutting down Weiner’s mayoral candidacy, and won’t “make the same mistake” for Spitzer. That might be because of the obvious parallels between the men themselves: Both are wildly ambitious megalomaniacs who’ve carved messy trajectories through the political sphere. Both were brought down by tawdry and impossibly public sex scandals. And both are seeking redemption at the exact same time.

But are these two perfidious swains really so alike?

Spitzer’s path to power may have been padded by family wealth and connections, but his record as a hard-nosed attorney general at least hinted at zeal. Whether he would have been an effective governor is moot — he took himself out of the game in the most spectacular way possible. Weiner, meanwhile, had a Congressional record that was tepid at best; it’s rarely a good sign when a politician’s most notable accomplishment is his wife. His lack of subtlety in using her connections to spur his career didn’t win him any fans (plenty of people use their spouses to get ahead, but most of them are abashed enough to try and hide it).

Then there are the scandals. Hands down, Spitzer’s was worse. Aside from the fact that he broke the actual law — let’s not forget those pesky statutes that make it a crime to solicit prostitutes — he also used “questionable funds” to travel across state lines, get busy with hookers, and then return to the state he governed, while his wife and daughters sat at home. His actions literally oozed hypocrisy, given how he was fashioning a crime-fighting reputation all the while. The best thing women could say at the time was, “Well at least he didn’t fall in love with the other woman, like Mark Sanford.”

Weiner, while cringe-worthy in so many ways, seems boring by comparison. His broken laws were strictly of the moral variety — it’s never been illegal to fool around on your wife via the Internet. Whether or not Twitter cheating constitutes actual cheating is less relevant than the fact that he was lying to his wife, and misrepresenting himself to constituents in the aftermath. The whole mess reeked of pathos — it takes a special sort of sad sack to send dick pics to a woman you’ve never met (and over Twitter, no less).

Their respective redemption tours took somewhat distinct paths as well, though they shared the continued need for public approval. Spitzer’s: a Slate column and failed shows on CNN and Current TV. Weiner’s: an 8,000-word New York Times profile complete with tearful atonement. At least he showed some remorse.

And now they’re both back for Round Two. The biggest instrument in their mutual favor is hands-down the power of celebrity. The Times editorial board, in an uncharacteristic zinger, called the duo “charter members of the Kardashian Party.” You simply can’t beat the name recognition that comes with a massive sex scandal, and the public has long shown its willingness to forgive politicians their sexual indiscretions, as long as they appear authentic (and remain famous). Recognition of this fact has other candidates scrambling to create their own controversies — just look at Bill de Blasio’s “Arrest Me!” stunt this week during a hospital closing protest. Note to Bill: next time, bring some prostitutes.

As for Spitzer’s candidacy, it’s humming along. He met last night’s deadline of 3,750 signatures — he was 23,000 over — after deploying a team of young people who were paid a rumored $800 a day (or roughly $120 an hour, depending on reports) to gather them. In the polls, he’s already topping Scott Stringer, a conscientious State Assembly veteran who’s been quietly campaigning (uncontested) for months now. And Weiner has emerged as the frontrunner in the Democratic primary.

Both men have been castigated by the National Organization for Women, which has staged protests to steer voters away. But public sentiment was best summed up by a recent man-on-the-street interview by Pix News. One woman was asked, “Would you vote for Eliot Spitzer for comptroller?”

“Sure, but why isn’t he running for mayor?” she replied.