The documentary’s buzzy premiere is slated for the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend, and the publicists say the main character himself might show up — not some rock star or heiress, but Eliot Spitzer, the fallen former governor of New York.
If Spitzer does make it to the red carpet, the plan is for him to sit through interviews with the woman who organized his liaisons with prostitutes — another incongruous moment in his remarkably rapid and successful rehabilitation.
The comeback is audacious, and the strategy brazen: Spitzer skipped the public remorse, the charity-work penance. Instead, he is using a sympathetic new biography and the film to try to close the book on his recent past and pivot to what he now openly admits to hoping will be a second career in public life.
His friends say that Spitzer is counting on his public embrace of the book and the documentary by Alex Gibney — which is expected to be sympathetic but serious and critical enough to be credible — to serve as the last word on the sex scandal that ended his career and as proof that he has nothing left to hide.
The book and movie “are a great steppingstone,” said Spitzer’s friend and former adman, Jimmy Siegel. “I think he will run for something in a year or two.”
Siegel’s view — reflected, on balance, in an interview for Peter Elkind’s new biography of Spitzer, “Rough Justice” — is this:
“On one hand, he’s the best attorney general [New York state has] ever had — a guy who transformed the office in a very proactive way and went after Wall Street when no one else ever had or would have — and turned out to be 100 percent right. On the other hand, he paid for sex. The ledger is much more on the positive side.”
That is, friends say, also Spitzer’s view, though the former governor didn’t respond to questions about the book. He did, however, talk about the matter with Elkind in late March.
‘“I love politics,” Spitzer told him. A race this year, he said, “is hard to see,” but he said he’s eyeing the post of New York state comptroller, whose massive money-management duties make it “the great underutilized position in government right now.”
“I’ve never said I would never consider running for office again,” he added.
The New York Post promptly pointed out that Spitzer had, in fact, said he wasn’t getting back into politics. But the decision has clearly been made. Spitzer, a source said, has begun to reactivate his political network, meeting with donors and others to make the case for his recovery.
He still has a long political road ahead. His sterling image as a crusader has been tainted by his fall, and 58 percent of New Yorkers, according to a recent Marist poll, don’t want him to run for office.
But Spitzer’s allies point out that that number had decreased from 69 percent last September, and the former governor’s preternatural confidence appears undiminished.
Indeed, the sheer speed of Spitzer’s re-emergence is a product of both the times and the man.
“Spitzer is evidence of how modern times have compressed the natural rhythm of everything — even scandal. He leapt on to the national stage overnight — and vanished in a moment,” Elkind writes in “Rough Justice.” “In the period it has taken me to write this book, he has performed what passes for him as penance and has already begun a comeback.”
Elkind traces Spitzer’s re-emergence to the decision by federal prosecutors not to file charges against him. Elkind told POLITICO that, when he began talking to Spitzer three months after his resignation, “it was inconceivable that Eliot Spitzer would be talking out loud about re-entering politics. He was in a deep funk.”
Even Spitzer’s critics marvel at his revival.
“When you’re at your nadir is when you can get up off the ground again — and here’s Eliot Spitzer’s opportunity,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York political consultant who worked for Spitzer in his campaigns for attorney general and is no longer an admirer.
“If he were a blue-collar Irishman from Queens, he’d be doing 4-10 [in prison],” Sheinkopf said.
The details revealed in “Rough Justice” are more embarrassing than damning: He slept with call girls a year earlier than previously known and more regularly. Elkind told POLITICO that Spitzer had lied to aides about it and admitted that the behavior began in 2006 only after Elkind had interviewed the prostitutes.
“I got him to the point of acknowledging that he started seeing escorts in March 2006 by confronting him with that,” Elkind said.
The reluctance of that admission raises the most negative feature of Spitzer portrayed in the book, though it’s not one the author harps on: Spitzer has lied repeatedly to the media and the public on a range of topics, large and small.
Elkind reports that he lied about where he got his campaign funds in 1998, claiming that they were his when they came from his father. He lied when he denied that the controversial political consultant Dick Morris was running that campaign. He lied when he denied telling a respected Wall Street elder statesman, “I will be coming after you.”
“Rough Justice” explores at length another view common in Spitzer’s circle: that he was, in fact, the victim.
In a chapter headed “Who Killed Eliot Spitzer,” Elkind rounds up suggestive clues that Spitzer’s Wall Street enemies had hints of a coming sex scandal. The theory rests on suggestions that the routine document Spitzer’s bank filed after the governor requested to transfer money anonymously to a mysterious “consulting” company would not have been enough to trigger an investigation.
Perhaps most important, Spitzer’s wife, Silda, held the view that he was the victim: “A hundred disparate threads of evidence fed her growing certainty: The bad guys had brought Eliot down.”
A new piece of evidence this week has undercut that thesis. The bank’s routine “suspicious activity report” on Spitzer’s behavior, leaked to the Albany Times Union, reveals an unusually urgent document, investigated at some length and studded with red flags.
“The types of transactions and counterparties identified did not seem consistent with a finance consulting firm,” the report notes, at one point, of Spitzer’s payee.
“Untitled Eliot Spitzer Film” premieres Saturday evening at the Tribeca Film Festival.