NEW YORK -- "How you gonna walk past me and not try my honey?" Andrew Cote shouted out at Eliot Spitzer. He didn't expect the line to work. But the former governor, who resigned from office five years ago after being caught up in a call-girl scandal, was drawn in by the Union Square Greenmarket grocer's cry, and purchased a small $20 bottle of the Brooklyn batch from Andrew's NYC Honey, which is collected from rooftop and balcony apiaries around the city.
It was just one more slightly surreal moment in the surreal hour-long first campaign appearance, following Spitzer's late-Sunday announcement that he intends to run for city comptroller.
Spitzer appeared shortly after noon in Manhattan's Union Square, ostensibly to collect signatures to get on the ballot for the September 10 Democratic primary. He was greeted by at least eight satellite news trucks, one cherry-picker, and more than 50 members of the press. They competed for space with each other, shoving and shouting in the sweltering summer heat for a moment of Spitzer's time until sweat poured down their faces and necks and Spitzer was as smeared and dripping as the mob that surrounded him, barking questions. Spitzer gamely stood amid the crushing throng in a navy pin-stripped suit, slowly rotating from camera bank to camera bank and taking queries flung over the elbowing, pawing cameramen to be recorded on devices held aloft by outstretched hand over outstretched hand. If he found the attention overwhelming, he gave no sign, staying on message and futilely declaring, "one more, one more" over and over, before continuing to take questions until the the scrum had traveled from the Union Square subway entrance up the length of the park and up onto lower Broadway. At 18th Street, he finally ducked into a yellow SUV cab and sped away.
Along the way, Spitzer collected a handful of signatures, as well as unexpected but passionate expressions of support from men and women grateful for things he'd done during his time as governor and state attorney general on issues ranging from tobacco sales to prosecuting Wall Street.
Andrew Fine, 45, a real-estate broker (and blogger) from the Upper East Side who works in the Union Square area, was the first person to sign Spitzer's petition to get on the ballot. He said he got wind of the appearance just 15 minutes before Spitzer showed up and managed to shove his way through the crowd to get to Spitzer and his proffered forms. Comptroller is "probably the second most important position in the city. Personally I'd rather he'd have run for mayor ... but I guess he figured this was his opportunity to get back in," said Fine, interviewed after leaving the scrum. "I have absolutely no doubt he should be allowed on the ballot if he fulfills the guidelines."
Fine wasn't bothered by Spitzer's past. "I really don't think that politicians should be judged on their personal lives; they should be judged on how they govern," he said, acknowledging "there is some hypocrisy there because as a D.A. he was prosecuting the crimes that he committed himself."
Charles Ellis, a city employee, was less understanding, declaring, "Oh God, does he really think anyone is going to vote for him?" "I mean, there's quite a difference between sexting and hiring hookers," he said, referring the scandal to drove mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner from Congress, as well as Spitzer's transgressions. "I think it's ridiculous that Spitzer would come in like this. It's grandstanding on his part."
Some citizens shouted words of encouragement over the press at Spitzer -- "We gonna vote for you Eliot! We gonna vote for you! We forgave you!" cried Cleonie Sinclair of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn -- while Joey Boots from the Howard Stern Show catcalled the show's signature "Ba-ba-booey" line at the former governor and demanded of Spitzer if he was still with his wife and if he'd used a condom in his encounters with prostitutes.