Sleaze always sells, but when it comes to politics, maybe not so much and not for long.
Take the New York City primaries on Tuesday, when voters will get a chance to pick candidates for mayor and city comptroller. Voters will also get a chance to decide whether two politicians, forced to quit important posts in disgrace after sex scandals, will resume political careers.
Former Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, also known in sexting circles as Carlos Danger, and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who was caught using a prostitute, were hoping to stage comebacks.
Both men, at one time, topped the field in their races for mayor and city comptroller. But the latest poll by Quinnipiac University, released Monday, has Weiner holding on to fourth place, with 6 percent. That puts him just ahead of Comptroller John Liu, at 4 percent, who has been running in the lower end of the mayoral rankings for months.
Spitzer, once the overwhelming favorite to win the comptroller nomination, is now trailing, but the race against Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is considered tight. Stringer is ahead, 50 percent to 43 percent, but there is a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent. Almost 20 percent said they were undecided or could change their mind.
Spitzer’s and Weiner’s past foibles — and in Weiner’s case, ongoing troubles — brought both men a share of notoriety that politically translates into name recognition and is likely responsible for their early surges in the polls. There is also a likely underdog effect, a force in New York City sports such as politics. People like to root for a comeback.
But New Yorkers hate to be fooled and Weiner’s recent admission that he had returned to sexting sparked renewed outrage. Last week he got into a strange confrontation over the sexting episodes with an Orthodox Jew in a bakery in a heavily Orthodox section of Brooklyn on the event of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana.
The mayoral race is also the scene of one of the great political nosedives in modern New York history. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, originally thought to be a shoe-in, is running third, according to the poll, at 18 percent. That is about half the popularity of the front-runner, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio at 39 percent. In between is former city Comptroller William Thompson at 25 percent. The pair of Bills seem to be heading for a runoff, though De Blasio has a shot of winning 40 percent – the magic number needed to claim the nomination outright.
Quinn has seemingly been hurt by being perceived as too close to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, forced to leave office because of term limits. Bloomberg last week attacked De Blasio’s campaign and used the term “racist” to describe the De Blasio appeal to African-American voters. De Blasio is married to a black woman.
Bloomberg made his remarks in an interview with New York magazine. The magazine released a fuller version of Bloomberg’s comments designed to include an interjection that the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart noted took some of the sting out Bloomberg’s infelicitous choice of words. But at best, Bloomberg’s words were seen as a way of backing a candidate, Quinn, who will preserve the mayor’s legacy unlike De Blasio, a liberal, who has campaigned against the incumbent.
Still, the poll found that almost one in five New York voters said there was a good chance they could change their mind before voting on the mayor’s race Tuesday.
Race is also playing a key role in the comptroller race. Stringer is far ahead, 65 percent to 31 percent in the white vote while Spitzer is far ahead, 58 percent to 30 percent, with blacks. Spitzer is slightly ahead with Latinos, 51 percent to 44 percent.