NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer is asking the public for a second chance as he starts collecting thousands of signatures needed to enter the race for New York City comptroller, years after he was caught in a prostitution scandal that culminated in one of politics' steepest falls from power.
Spitzer, a Democrat, met with voters in Union Square on Monday to launch his comeback attempt. Candidates for citywide offices like comptroller have to have 3,750 signatures from registered voters in their party by Thursday.
"The happiest years of my life professionally were as attorney general, as governor, as a prosecutor and I'd like to go back to public service," he told CBS 2's Weijia Jiang.
As WCBS 880's Peter Haskell and CBS 2's Marcia Kramer reported, the former governor's return to the campaign trail was not without hecklers, shouting things such as the following:
"Spitzer, you cheated on your wife!"
"You betrayed your constituents. You abandoned your wife. You betrayed everybody!"
"This is about power. You just want power, man. If you want public service go volunteer somewhere!"
"Did you leave your black socks on?"
Spitzer appeared to take it in stride, as if he expected it.
"This is what I look forward to -- dealing with the public," said Spitzer. "This is New York. You know when we go to a ballpark we heckle the pitcher who throws one bad pitch. We have a little bit of the heckler in each one of us. At a certain point it passes the line of decorum, but this is New York. This is politics. I'm game for it. I got skin as thick as a rhinoceros so I'm ready for anything."
Kramer then asked Spitzer, "You threw one bad pitch. Is it one bad pitch?"
To which Spitzer replied, "I said the pitcher throws a lot. I'm sure I threw more than one, trust me. Nobody throws a perfect game, trust me. I've thrown a couple no-hitters. I've thrown some doozies on the other side."
As the former governor answered questions in Union Square, he was surrounded by a mob of 50 members of the media.
"I love the maelstrom, I love the screaming, I love the shouting. But what I love most of all is doing things for the public," the disgraced former governor said.
Spitzer Faces Hecklers As He Hits Campaign Trail In Union Square
He said he thinks voters will look past his prostitution scandal.
"Because they will look at the substantive record of what I did as attorney general, what I did as governor, what I did as a prosecutor," said Spitzer.
Watch CBS 2's Full Interview With Spitzer Below:
Former New York State Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who took over as governor when Spitzer resigned amid scandal, weighed in on Spitzer's new bid for office on Monday afternoon but withheld any type of endorsement.
"I think it would be good for New York City whichever of the candidates who's running for comptroller wins. Scott Stringer, the [Manhattan] borough president, has been outstanding as an assemblyman and a borough president. Eliot Spitzer never really got a chance as governor but as attorney general showed that he wasn't afraid to tax sacred cows and he wasn't afraid to tell it like it is, which is what you really need from a comptroller," Paterson told WCBS 880. "This is the person that's looking after the city's revenues, its currency, its economic situation. And if someone just sits there idly and lets things go by, it's actually dangerous. It's sort of the check and balance on the mayor and the city council so it's an important position."
Eliot Spitzer's Former Lt. Gov. David Paterson On Spitzer's Run For Redemption
The former governor said with Spitzer joining the campaign, there will be a real race for the Democratic nomination for city comptroller, and noted that Spitzer still has connections in the political arena.
"I don't think he will have to knock on doors for money," said Paterson.
Returning to public service after more than six years in the political wilderness was difficult for Spitzer, who never hid from the spotlight and even joked about his mistakes on camera and at political events.
"Politics is a contact sport. So many areas are. This one takes a unique toll on my family. I've imposed that toll. I'm very conscious of that and it's not easy," he said.
Spitzer has spoken in the past about the potential for the comptroller's job to look into corporate misdeeds. That would be similar to what he did as the state's attorney general, when he was known as the "sheriff of Wall Street.''
Eye on Politics: Eliot Spitzer
Since his resignation, the married father of three has returned to public life as a commentator, with shows on CNN, Current TV and NY1.
He said he hoped city voters would give him a chance, saying he had "sinned,'' "owned up to it'' and hopes the public will judge him on his record in public service.
"I'm asking the public for forgiveness, for a shot to serve once again," he told 1010 WINS' Steve Sandberg.
He said he would focus on public policy discussions, the city budget and corporate governance, much as he did as state attorney general for two terms before he was elected governor in 2006. He wrote a book on improving the governance of corporations, which is due out in a week.
Spitzer Asks Public For 'Forgiveness' In Run For NYC Comptroller
"I hope the record I had as attorney general, standing up in the public interest, will be enough to persuade the public to give me a second shot," Spitzer told WCBS 880's Alex Silverman.
Spitzer Running For NYC Comptroller
He said he'd discussed his potential run with his wife and daughters before making the decision over the weekend. He said he has no plans for office beyond city comptroller.
Many voters seemed torn about giving Spitzer a second chance.
"He is really disgraceful," said Upper East Side resident Yvonne Fitzpatrick.
"If the guy has talents and he wants to use them to help New York, he certainly proved that he could," said West Village resident Kushel Malhotra. "People deserve second chances."
When asked why he was offering his signature to Spitzer, Andrew Fine told CBS 2's Kramer, "Because everybody has a right to make a choice, that's the bottom line, and whether you vote for this man or not he should be on the ballot and get the signatures, freedom of choice."
Current Comptroller John Liu is running for mayor.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has been the most prominent among the contenders to become New York City's next fiscal chief. He's raised more than $3.5 million and spent about $566,000, city campaign finance records show, while his opponents have yet to report any fundraising or spending.
"You need someone with a steady hand, who's grounded, who has maturity, who thinks about the long term. This race is not about me, myself and I. This race is about the people of the city who are struggling," Stringer said.
Spitzer Asks Public For 'Forgiveness' In Run For NYC Comptroller
Spitzer's potential opponents include Republican John Burnett, who has worked on Wall Street in various finance capacities and just recently declared his candidacy; Green Party candidate Julia Willebrand, a former teacher; and former madam Kristin Davis, who once ran three escort services and claims to have provided hookers to Spitzer, which hasn't been proven.
"I would say I'm the most honest of all of them," Davis said when asked to compare her candidacy to Spitzer and Democratic mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner. "Everything about me has already come out. I've served my time. They're just career politicians looking for their next in."
Former Rep. Weiner left office two years ago amid a scandal over his racy tweets to strangers.
Paterson noted many once-disgraced politicians are seeking - and in at least one case, attaining -- a comeback in politics.
"It certainly is a fascinating situation that's coming here now about the redemption factor because you've now got Gov. [Mark] Sanford (R-S.C.) who was successful [in being elected to Congress], former congressman [Anthony] Weiner who is embroiled in a close race, but at one point was ahead in the polls, and you've got Gov. Spitzer who is looking to be successful as well," Paterson told WCBS 880. "I don't think this all could have happened some years ago."
Spitzer first shared his intentions to run in Sunday's New York Times.
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