Spitzer said he thought about entering the race for months and decided just this weekend, leaving him only four days to collect 3,750 voters' signatures needed to get on the ballot. A scion of a real estate family, he plans to finance his own campaign.
He promised to amp up the office of comptroller, which invests the city's $139 billion in pension funds, analyzes the budget and audits agencies and programs.
Spitzer — known as "the sheriff of Wall Street" for taking on some big financial firms as attorney general — says he'd use the pension funds' shareholder stakes to force changes in how corporations operate; he believes corporations shouldn't let one person be both CEO and board chairman, for instance.
In a phone interview Monday, Spitzer said he would also use the comptroller's voice to make sure policies are working, "not just that the paper clips are counted."
But political analysts say Spitzer will need to walk a fine line between maintaining the "steamroller" persona that propelled him into the governor's office and signaling to voters he knows he made a mistake.
"He's got to be a different model of Spitzer," said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic strategist. "And this model has got to be as competent and less arrogant and be prepared to say, 'Look, I screwed up, forgive me, because I think I can do this job.'"
Spitzer's arrival shakes up what had looked to be a predictable comptroller's race. Democratic Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a former state assemblyman, had raised more than $3.5 million while his lesser-known opponents had yet to report any fundraising or spending.
"Bring it on. We're ready for this," Stringer said at a news conference Monday. His campaign manager has said Spitzer is trying to "buy personal redemption with his family fortune."