Why Eliot Spitzer has an “intellectual fascination” with the comptroller position

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Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer says he has an “intellectual fascination” with the position of state comptroller, but also called current Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli “a good friend.”

Spitzer, the disgraced former Democratic governor who resigned five years ago tomorrow, said in an interview with Gannett’s Albany Bureau that the comptroller post is not unlike the regulatory role he took as attorney general. As the sole trustee of the nation’s third largest pension fund, the state comptroller can be an agent to force better corporate governance, he explained.

“Ownership trumps regulation as a way to change the way corporations behave,” Spitzer said. He said that, “only wise judgment can lead you to the right choices, and wise judgment is a consequence of pressure from ownership. And ownership is controlled by shareholders. Shareholders are the comptrollers, those who control the pension funds, the mutual funds.”

He said shareholders, particularly large ones like state comptrollers, could even force changes to the controversial Citizens United federal decision, which allows for big corporate contributions to political campaigns.

“The answer to Citizens United is shareholders saying don’t waste your time, energy and money playing politics. Leave that to individuals. You focus on building a better widget,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer has been rumored for years to be eying the state comptroller’s office as his stage for a political comeback after he resigned for soliciting a prostitute in 2008. But Spitzer said he’s not talking about the position so he could run for it.

“My intellectual fascination with the position is what I think why some people attribute to me some desire to get there,” Spitzer said. “I’m not even going to comment on that. But what I will say is that the position is one that I keep talking about.”

Overall, Spitzer said he made the right decision five years ago to resign.

More from Spitzer’s interview, including about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pension-smoothing plan, which Spitzer doesn’t support:

Spitzer refrained from critiquing the job Cuomo has done. The two have had an icy relationship, particularly after Cuomo released a damning report as attorney general in 2007 on his administration’s attempt to politically damage then-Senate Republican Leader Joseph Bruno.

Spitzer said the upstate economy must be a focus, saying cities can’t be allowed to go bankrupt. He doesn’t support Cuomo’s plan to let local governments smooth out their pension costs over 25 years, which critics have said would be risky.

“I, like many others, am not a fan of what Andrew has proposed in that regard,” Spitzer said. “I don’t think that is an answer that really works.”

He said, “The answer long term is we do need smart pension reform, and we also need revenue streams that are dedicated to permitting the urban centers to deal with their costs.”

So will Spitzer get back into politics?

“I think if you ask anybody who’s been in elective office, there is always a desire to get back into an arena that is fascinating, rewarding, full of excitement and tension,” Spitzer said. “It’s somewhat like athletes: rarely do they know exactly when it’s best to leave.”

He continued: “It doesn’t mean you succumb to that temptation. It doesn’t mean that you do get back in.”

And he finished the thought with: “It doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t do it either.”

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