THE BLOG

Forgive Wiener, Not Spitzer

07/17/2013 12:39 pm ET | Updated Sep 16, 2013

Elliot Spitzer's entrance into the New York City comptroller race has taken the city by storm. There has been a lot of talk about whether Spitzer "deserves a second chance" and even more comparison of Spitzer's situation with that of Wiener. Spitzer doesn't deserve a second chance, but Wiener does. The problem is that with such a crowded election, voters are going to conflate the two issues. This will be devastating for Wiener's reelection campaign, and will be a minor though undeserved boon for Spitzer's.

Spitzer became infamous in March 2008, when it was discovered that he had spent up to $80,000 on high-end prostitutes during his tenure as attorney general and governor. In the week after Spitzer's scandal became public, polls found that 49 percent of New Yorkers thought he should face criminal charges, and 66 percent believed he should be impeached. By accepting responsibility for his wrongdoing and resigning from office, Spitzer was able to avoid federal prosecution under the Mann Act, which makes it a crime to transport prostitutes across state lines.

Wiener's scandal came three years later, in 2011, when he admitted that he "exchanged messages and photos of an explicit nature with about six women over the last three years." And Wiener's inept handing of the issue only made matters worse. When the media first got wind of the sexting, Wiener lied to the public, claiming he had been hacked and that an Internet security expert was looking into the matter. Only when pictures of him became public did Wiener admit wrongdoing.

Both politicians allowed their enormous egos -- already notorious by the time their respective scandals erupted -- to influence their behavior. They abandoned their families and hurt those closest to them. They disappointed their supporters, and resigned in shame.

But since then, they've taken very different paths to redemption. Spitzer told the hosts of MSNBC's Morning Joe Monday "I have spent five years reflecting, thinking, apologizing, and I am ready to ask forgiveness." But he remains "mystified by the attention and the focus on that." Despite his recent apology tour, Spitzer doesn't appear as if he's able understand why a prostitution scandal is the public's business. "There is a difference between public and private lives," Spitzer asserts. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post is spot on when he concludes, "Elliot Spitzer isn't sorry, not really."

Wiener, by contrast, has reconciled with his wife and undergone a long rehabilitation process, which involved entering a psychological treatment center. Today, Wiener has recovered, and appears sincere about wanting living a more honest life. In media interviews and public appearances, Wiener, who was infamous for being boisterous and provocative in Congress has virtually disappeared. In his place is a confident man who has his feet on the ground -- a man who remained resilient through a long struggle. He's just a young man from Brooklyn who wants a second chance at the job he loves.

All across the city, there is a general disillusionment with our choices in the upcoming elections. Facebook and Twitter have been flooded with posts to the general extent of "what has our city come to, when the candidates for our highest offices can't control their sexual desires?" Spitzer and Wiener have become the "sex candidates." Either person alone could have avoided this being the central issue of their candidacies and focused on policy, as Wiener was successfully doing last week. But together, they have created a phenomenon, and the result is an exponential increase in negative publicity for both of them. It's hard to understand why Spitzer didn't figure this out before declaring his candidacy. The most plausible explanation is that he simply didn't care because he's a "steamroller" who's only interested in himself.

It's important in this election season that we don't group Wiener and Spitzer together and instead evaluate each man on his own merits. Wiener betrayed his family. Spitzer violated the law and exploited prostitutes. Wiener sent pictures of himself to women. Spitzer paid them for sex. Wiener has reconciled with his wife. Spitzer's is a "notable no-show" who lives apart from him, according to the Daily News. Wiener has traveled the road to redemption, while Spitzer is hopping on the bandwagon. I am by no means trying to justify Wiener. What he did was immoral and violated the trust of his constituents, not to mention his family. But I hope I've made it clear that it's too easy to group the two candidates together and forget that they committed crimes of very different magnitudes.

Spitzer was right about one thing "The public is forgiving. Whether that forgiveness extends to me is a separate question." I certainly don't think it should. Voters will deliver their verdict in September.