Is Eliot Spitzer Running For Comptroller?

Eliot Spitzer has waded back into politics with an op-ed today at Slate that lays out a vision for how state comptrollers can revamp corporate politics and lobbying in Washington, DC--perhaps hinting that he wants the job.

The antagonist of Spitzer's discourse is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which, using dues from its member companies (most publicly traded companies in the U.S.), pushes the conservative angle on the gamut of issues that affect business, including tax policy and carbon emissions.

It's up to state comptrollers, Spitzer says, to pressure businesses to drop their Chamber memberships, as Apple recently did over climate change. Public pensions funds own stakes in a lot of those companies, and the state comptrollers that run those funds can, as shareholders, pressure the boards of those companies to drop out of the Chamber.

It's an interesting idea that Spitzer poses. It's also interesting that, if Spitzer wants to get back into electoral politics in the near future, the 2010 New York state comptroller's race is a likely choice.

New York's present state comptroller, Democrat Tom DiNapoli, isn't a favorite of Spitzer's. As governor, Spitzer objected to DiNapoli's appointement by the state legislature. And while state comptroller would be a step down from governor, or even attorney general, Spitzer would face challenges beating some of New York's political stars, like Cuomo or Giuliani--who would rival his name ID and don't have the baggage of a prostitution scandal. Running for governor would be difficult, though he might have a better chance at unseating Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D).

Comptroller, on the other hand, is a race Spitzer could win. According to a September Marist poll, DiNapoli has middling, though not bad, approval numbers: 35 percent rate him as excellent or good; 32 percent rate him as "fair"; seven percent as "poor," and 26 percent as unsure. Spitzer is much more recognizable and would have a name-ID advantage.

It's unclear whether Spitzer wants to get back into elected office. He's slowly crept back into public life since his scandal, appearing with his wife to do regular things, like watch baseball at the new Yankee Stadium. The New York Post suggested in early September that Spitzer wants back in the game, though the former governor wouldn't comment, and some close to him said it wasn't true.

But here he is, laying out his vision for the role of a state comptroller. It could be a simple proposal for how to defeat the Chamber. But, if nothing else, it signifies an interest on Spitzer's behalf in the role of that office.

If state comptroller seems beneath the former governor and attorney general, perhaps it would be more fitting than a high-profile race. Spitzer fell from grace publicly; New York's voters may not accept a return to political stardom. A main concern is that he'd be putting his family through a lot, perhaps out of a need for public attention.

Running for a lower-profile office like comptroller would appear less selfish. It would probably come off as a measure of his selfless drive to serve the people or New York, regardless of comptroller's relative lack of glory.

And, by the way, he's just laid out a plan for how a single state comptroller can affect the national political landscape, slaying the dragon of Washington's Big Business lobby from this seemingly meager post in a state capitol.

"If one activist state comptroller begins to build this coalition, the other state pension funds will follow," Spitzer writes. Perhaps he'll be the one to do it.