NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two years after former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution scandal, public interest in the sleazy details is still strong, dampening speculation of a political comeback.
A return to the political stage by Spitzer, a Democrat who left after being caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet a prostitute, is not impossible but would be strongly hobbled by persistent reminders of the scandal, experts say.
Spitzer, who was not charged in the case, recently said he was “incredibly frustrated” at no longer being governor and would not rule out another run for office. “I love politics,” he said in Fortune magazine.
But Spitzer is the subject of a new biography by Peter Elkind, an editor at large at Fortune magazine, that claims he spent as much as $100,000 on high-priced prostitutes before he resigned.
The book, “Rough Justice: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” also says Spitzer paid to have a prostitute flown to Puerto Rico where he was attending a meeting, according to media that have seen early copies of the book.
And the former governor is the focus of an untitled documentary by Alex Gibney set to premiere at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival this month.
The hit CBS television show “The Good Wife” is loosely based on the Spitzer marriage, with actress Julianna Margulies portraying the wife of a politician who is forced to resign after it was revealed he paid for escorts.
Ashley Dupre, the real-life escort at the center of the Spitzer case, is posing for an upcoming issue of Playboy and even writes a sex advice column for the New York Post.
“He has become an industry,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of public affairs at Baruch College in New York.
Nearly half of New York voters in a poll this week said Spitzer should run for office again someday, but a majority said they did not want to see him run this year.
“Some of the battle scars have faded a little bit,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion that conducted the poll.
“But voters in New York are still very reluctant to entertain the notion of him as a candidate,” he said.
‘WANTS TO BE A PLAYER’
Miringoff added that Spitzer as a candidate would be “a consultant’s field day, not just in terms of his character flaw but where the state is in terms of its dysfunction.”
Democratic Governor David Paterson, who succeeded Spitzer, is embroiled in scandals of his own.
He is being investigated by the state attorney general’s office for allegations he improperly intervened when a top aide was involved in a domestic abuse case. Another probe is weighing whether he illegally solicited and accepted gifts.
Meanwhile, the state’s budget lies unapproved and past deadline. In the latest of New York’s grim fiscal travails, the state-run Off-Track Betting operation is on the brink of closing down unless it receives a bailout.
“The political terrain is relatively barren and at one point Eliot Spitzer stood at the top of the mountain,” said Muzzio. “Who else is there?”
Spitzer writes a column for Slate.com, often appears on television and has been an outspoken proponent of financial reform -- the issue that propelled him to national prominence when he served as state attorney general and earned him the nickname Sheriff of Wall Street.
“I think clearly Eliot Spitzer wants to be a player,” said Muzzio, adding: “But a politician’s legitimacy rests on their credibility and he lost his credibility.”
A glimpse of the atmosphere Spitzer would face was on display this week at a Manhattan nightclub where Kristen Davis, who served prison time for running an escort service, held a fundraiser for her long-shot bid to become the next governor.
Davis called Spitzer a hypocrite for targeting prostitution rings as governor and paying for escorts in his personal life.
On hand was longtime Republican political operative Roger Stone, a Spitzer detractor and adviser to Davis’ campaign.
“Will he always have a voice? Of course. This is America,” said Stone. “But his record of hypocrisy will always follow him around.”
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Eric Beech