NEW YORK – It's two thumbs down for the tabloid twins.
New York City voters rejected two scandal-scarred politicians trying for an electoral comeback: Former governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in 2008 in a prostitution scandal, lost a competitive race for city comptroller. Former representative Anthony Weiner, whose sexting cost him his congressional seat in 2011, came in fifth in the NYC Democratic mayoral primary. .
"No comeback kids there,'' said Doug Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College.
Both men said they ran again for office to redeem themselves and to seek forgiveness from the voters they offended. When they entered their races, they were greeted by a maelstrom of media coverage and a series of relentless double entendres in the city's tabloids.
They also both led pre-election opinion polls at points during the campaign, buoyed by support from African-American voters.
Spitzer, who financed his campaign with his fortune from his family's real-estate business, promised to use the powers of the comptroller's office to reprise the "sheriff of Wall Street" role he took on as the state's attorney general. His opponent Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president with deep establishment backing, ripped Spitzer for his ethical failings and for his rocky tenure as governor.
Spitzer repeatedly, if grimly, told voters he was sorry. "I made mistakes, but I made a difference." Though his wife Silda Wall stood by him at his 2008 resignation, she did not appear during his comptroller campaign.
"In Spitzer's case, he didn't embarrass himself,'' Muzzio said. "Weiner self-immolated in a way that's truly astounding.''
Weiner's early momentum halted abruptly when it was revealed that the sexting that led him to resign from Congress had continued even after he left office. Trying to salvage his campaign, Weiner brought his wife, Huma Abedin, to speak in support. But she then disappeared from the campaign trail and did not appear with him when he conceded Tuesday night.
"Had he spent a couple of years doing good works and … in some degree of seclusion there might have been a place for him in New York City politics, but it was much too fast,'' said Bruce Berg of Fordham University. "He turned the primary into a circus and there is going to be some ill will that will be long-lasting."
The circus followed Weiner even to the end: 23-year-old Sydney Leathers, one of Weiner's on-line sexting partners, showed up at his election night party, touching off yet another a flurry in the press and on social media.
"Why not be here?" Leathers asked reporters. "I'm kind of the reason he's losing. So, might as well show up."
Elected officials can survive sex scandals more easily than financial scandals, says Kenneth Sherrill, political scientist at CUNY Graduate Center, but Spitzer and Weiner had no allies to help them buy time. "They were so lacking in collegiality that they had no friends,'' Sherrill said. "Their colleagues were happy to see them go.''