Commentary Magazine


“Empty”: Eliot Spitzer’s Creepy New Ad

The best thing Eliot Spitzer has going for his race to be New York City comptroller is that voters don’t pay enough attention to the job to be overly concerned about the potential damage someone as destructive as Spitzer can cause in the office. (Stop random New Yorkers on the street and ask them if they even know who their current comptroller is; many won’t, even though he’s currently also running for mayor.)

But they should be concerned, because the job of comptroller, which involves financial management and oversight for the city, is one that Spitzer is almost uniquely unqualified for. What’s more, Spitzer is so lost in his own world of narcissistic hyperactivity that his campaign is determined to remind voters just how unqualified he is for the job. Take his latest ad, titled “Empty,” which is predicated on the belief that New Yorkers would vote for someone who promises to bring the city to financial ruin:


Turning the city’s financial district into a ghost town is the kind of dystopian fantasy that may–may–run through the minds of Occupy Wall Street-style Chomskyite pseudoanarchists. But Spitzer wants to be elected to a vital position of power over the city’s finances. He is not a college freshman, when this sort of thing would have a certain idealistic charm only because of the near-certainty that the kid would grow out of it. That Spitzer’s admiration for bringing financial ruin to the private sector has only increased as he has aged tells you all you need to know about him.

But this should be no laughing matter to New Yorkers. In October 2011, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a report detailing how the ongoing Wall Street sluggishness was hurting the city. DiNapoli is the comptroller for the state, not the city, but he made clear the damage being done to both. As the New York Times explained at the time:

Wall Street’s struggles will most likely be reflected in New York City’s tax revenue, as well as in the revenues of nonfinancial businesses, like high-end real estate firms and expensive restaurants, which depend on a steady flow of well-off customers. The comptroller’s report estimates that for every job lost on Wall Street, two are lost in the city in other industries, and one additional job is lost elsewhere in the state.

“These developments will have a rippling effect through the economy and adversely impact state and city tax collections,” Mr. DiNapoli said in the statement. “As we know, when Wall Street slows, New York City and New York State’s budgets feel the impact and that is a concern.”

Again: for every job lost on Wall Street, the city loses two more and the state an additional job. At the time, DiNapoli was warning that the securities industry could shed 10,000 more jobs over the following year. Tax revenue plummets, which for those who lost a job because of the city’s struggles and now rely more on city services is a perfect storm of financial crisis.

DiNapoli had been interviewed by WNYC radio about the report, and said that to put the numbers in perspective, the prior year Wall Street had been the source of 14 percent of the state’s tax revenue and 7 percent of the city revenue. DiNapoli was asked about the Occupy protests and how the protesters were calling for policies that could impoverish those they were claiming to represent. He responded, diplomatically:

When employment contracts, that’s personal income tax revenue, and money that’s spent in neighborhoods on goods and services, so that’s where that ripple effect happens.

That’s how a responsible comptroller speaks about basic economics. It’s also the opposite of how Spitzer sees the world. An empty financial district and taxpayers fleeing the city is a scene that leaves Spitzer grinning like a madman. It is disturbing both that Spitzer finds this so amusing and also that he thinks voters would too, hence the ad. As CNN reports:

The new ad is part of a $450,000 buy premiering this week and will be featured primarily on major news websites. Its twin came out Monday, a less triumphant spot that instead featured Spitzer’s admission of the personal failing that lead to his resignation as New York governor in 2008.

Making creepy, “triumphant” videos about New York City as a ghost town is how Spitzer spends his own money. New Yorkers can be forgiven for wondering just what he’ll do when he has access to theirs.

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