Because public relations practitioners often focus on forming, reinforcing or changing public opinion, I’m intrigued by the candidacies of Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner. Spitzer, the former New York governor who solicited prostitutes and was forced to resign in 2008, declared this week that he is running for New York City comptroller. He already leads in early polls. Weiner, the former Queens congressman who tweeted salacious photos of himself and resigned in 2011, leads in the race for New York City mayor, according to a Wall Street Journal-NBC New York-Marist poll released last Tuesday.
There is mixed reaction from the public and political pundits about these two candidates, and their exploits have again become fodder for late night comedians. But although Weiner and Spitzer may have, at minimum, had serious lapses in moral judgment, they do have one very strong positive going for them: they both have tremendous name recognition. And just as the old political adage states that “every handshake equals a vote,” name recognition gives candidates a huge advantage over lesser-known opponents.
But what of their misdeeds? Both men have told reporters that they believe they’ve atoned for their sins and deserve a second chance. Spitzer told Jay Leno in a taping of “The Tonight Show” on Friday, “People who fall prey to hubris end up falling themselves…and the fall from grace is incredibly painful. It is something from which you can learn.”
I wonder if such humility will move the public’s opinion of Eliot Spitzer enough to get him elected comptroller. And are New Yorkers willing to vote Anthony Weiner into the city’s highest office just two years after his terribly embarrassing resignation? There can be no escaping frequent focus on their misbehavior, no matter how often they attempt to move the discussion to the issues. Spitzer and Weiner are excellent communicators, but they’ll have to be highly effective at steering the conversation away from their indiscretions. We’ve seen politicians (including Bill Clinton, of course) recover from sex scandals, so these races will be very interesting to watch. Your thoughts?