EDITORIAL: Restoring a reputation

Eliot Spitzer only wants another turn in the limelight

Eliot Spitzer just won’t leave us alone. Five years after the Manhattan tabloids went into a frenzy when a call-girl ring identified the man who was the governor as “Client No. 9,” he wants to get back into politics. He’s a candidate for comptroller of New York City, the officer who keeps the books and rides herd on Gotham’s enormous investment portfolio.

Heir to a real estate fortune, Mr. Spitzer intends to finance his election campaign with his own money. “I will continue to ask the public’s forgiveness and simultaneously ask for another opportunity to serve,” he tells The New York Times.

Mr. Spitzer has a rough road ahead of him, considering the first reaction of New Yorkers. Some of them told him what they thought of his bright idea as he collected signatures on his nominating petition. “You slept with hookers, and you lied and cheated on your family,” one man heckled the “Love Guv” as he slipped into a taxi.

Americans have a boundless capacity for forgiveness, and it’s one of the good things that define us. Earlier this year, voters in South Carolina elected Mark Sanford, another former governor with a taste for secret infidelities, to the U.S. House of Representatives. Anthony D. Weiner, a former member of the House, tweeted photographs of his undraped physique, which was nothing to write home about, to several women, none of whom was his wife. Now he’s leading the public-opinion polls in the race for mayor of New York.

Mr. Spitzer wants to join the company of disgraced pols trying to redeem a reputation through return to public office. As the state attorney general, Mr. Spitzer didn’t clean up much corruption in Albany or anywhere else. He harassed a lot of businessmen, and he was reluctant as governor to show others the forgiveness he now seeks for himself. He had no patience for anyone who differed with him, and when he left Albany, he left few broken hearts.

There’s a right way to ask for a second chance, and a wrong way. Fifty years ago, a disgraced British minister showed how to make amends after he was caught in an affair that destroyed a promising political career. John Profumo, the minister of war, was exposed as sharing a mistress with the military attache at the Soviet Embassy in London. He lied to the House of Commons about it and was forced to resign. The spectacle figured in the fall of a Conservative government. He disappeared from public life in humiliation and was later discovered cleaning toilets at a charity in London’s poverty-stricken East End. He continued to work there until he died eight years ago at age 91. He became much admired in London for his humility and his public service and was invited to Margaret Thatcher’s 70th birthday dinner, where he was seated next to the queen.

We all make mistakes. But if Eliot Spitzer really wants to continue in public service with his reputation restored, he might consider Profumo’s example. He wouldn’t necessarily have to clean toilets in Harlem or the Bronx, but he should find something more appropriate than another slot on a public payroll.

The Washington Times

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