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Saturday, October 25, 2014         

NEW YORK TIMES


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In Spitzer's comeback campaign, a once-fervent advocate isn't at his side

By Michael M. Grynbaum

New York Times

POSTED:



NEW YORK » Eliot Spitzer spent this past weekend hopping from coast to coast, flying to Los Angeles to appear on "The Tonight Show," then catching a red-eye back to Manhattan where he huddled for strategy sessions and hit the Sunday morning talk-show circuit.

His wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, had quieter plans. She headed to the family's 160-acre country retreat in the Hudson Valley, where she likes to paint and has been tending to a newborn calf.

When he announced his unlikely return to political life, Spitzer said the approval of his wife, a stalwart presence in his previous campaigns, was essential before he chose to pursue a potentially career-salvaging run for New York City comptroller.

But so far Wall Spitzer has been all but invisible, issuing no statement of support and not once appearing at her husband's side. It is a stark contrast from her days trekking to Niagara Falls and Buffalo Bisons baseball games to rally voters to his cause.

Spitzer's attempted comeback has coincided with a difficult time for his marriage - the couple are living in separate apartments 18 blocks apart. Five years after Spitzer resigned as governor amid a prostitution scandal, friends say Wall Spitzer is deeply conflicted about her husband's candidacy, offering assent but privately preferring he had not chosen to run.

"To be honest, she'd probably rather he didn't do it," said Karen Finerman, a longtime friend of the couple whose new book was feted by Wall Spitzer at a party last month.

"It opens up a whole chapter that was a difficult chapter," Finerman added. "But it is not in her nature to say to him, 'No, you can't.'"

Besides inviting uncomfortable questions on the trail, Wall Spitzer's absence has deprived Spitzer of the ally who could most potently make the case to voters that he has been rehabilitated: the woman whose ashen face at her husband's resignation announcement remains a searing symbol of his ignominious downfall.

Her silence is all the more striking when compared with Anthony D. Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, who has taken a prominent role in her husband's mayoral bid, appearing in a campaign video and greeting voters in Harlem hand-in-hand with her spouse. Weiner resigned from Congress in 2011 after sending explicit messages to women he met over the Internet.

Asked about his wife's absence, Spitzer has offered explanations that range from awkward to evasive. In a televised interview over the weekend, he paused for a full two seconds when asked if his wife had forgiven him, before offering a halting reply.

"We have both been hurt by what I did," Spitzer said, spacing out the words. "Damaged by what I did. That exacts a price, an emotional price, in any relationship, and that is painful."

Neither Spitzer nor his wife would comment for this article.

Friends said Wall Spitzer only agreed to her husband's bid for comptroller over the July 4 holiday weekend, the same weekend Spitzer made his plans public.

They have been observed coming and going from their respective apartments over the past week: she is living at the family's home on Fifth Avenue, while Spitzer is staying with his ailing parents, who live 18 blocks south. Spitzer has said that the couple is not separated and that he expects his wife will join him on the trail. She, however, has not announced any plans to do so.

Much has changed for Wall Spitzer, a former corporate lawyer, since her husband resigned in 2008.

She has grown more independent, relishing a return to her corporate career and working 60-hour weeks at a private equity firm where she helps guide investments in clean energy. She oversees her children's charity, generationOn, which earlier this year honored Chelsea Clinton, and has pursued new business ventures, including an e-commerce website, New York States of Mind, that highlights products from businesses in the state.

Carter Bales, the chairman of NewWorld Capital Group, where Wall Spitzer works, said she had given no indication that she would be taking a hiatus to help her husband's campaign.

"She's here because she has a professional commitment to the work that we do, and I would expect that commitment to continue and to grow," Bales said.

Wall Spitzer has long been a somewhat reluctant participant in the political world, unlike Abedin, a top aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton and a veteran of highly personal campaigns of absolution. Wall Spitzer once asked her husband, in the early days of his rocky term as governor, why he did not simply pursue his family's real estate business.

And she has been circumspect about her personal life since Spitzer resigned, telling Vogue magazine in a 2009 profile: "I value Eliot as a colleague. He is a wonderful human being."

Despite her reservations, Wall Spitzer affixed her name last week to a nominating petition for her husband. One of the couple's daughters, Sarabeth, helped her father canvass for petitions ahead of a crucial filing deadline.

Asked if Wall Spitzer was excited about her husband's new candidacy, Nancy Lieberman, a close friend for 20 years, paused a moment.

"She's, you know, she is supportive of it," Lieberman said. "You know, she's definitely there."

Still, Wall Spitzer's unwillingness to play the public role of forgiving spouse has complicated her husband's message and added a dose of dissonance to a campaign that Spitzer had hoped would follow the familiar arc of political resurrection.

"She is going to be an important part of evaluating the credibility of his candidacy," said Matthew Hiltzik, a communications executive and former Democratic strategist. "If she even provides minimal public support, that could go a long way."

Some friends of the couple say Spitzer will have to address the issue as the campaign rolls on.

There is little doubt that Wall Spitzer, a North Carolina native with an easy charm, would make a compelling advocate for her husband on the trail. She has not lost the sense of humor that helped sustain her after her husband's resignation.

When she was hired by Finerman at a hedge fund in 2008, just as the economy was collapsing, her new colleagues often wrung their hands about the upheaval in the stock market.

Wall Spitzer, months removed from her husband's scandal, would laugh.

"Ah, this is nothing!" she told them, according to Finerman.






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