Stringer ‘steps up’ and the mayoral field adjusts, respectfully

De Blasio, Liu, Quinn, Stringer and Thompson. (Azi Paybarah)
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"Guess what. Ready? I decided to run for comptroller," said Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, in an interview Sunday afternoon. "I'm not dropping down. I'm stepping up."

"People are struggling to make ends meet ... The economy was fragile pre-hurricane," he said, adding, "We have a post-Sandy economy we have to think about."

Stringer says that his current duties "sort of mirror the comptroller's office," and that his experiences in the Assembly apply too: he rattled off some of the 50 reports he's issued on government spending and waste.

The other prospective Democratic candidate for comptroller is City Councilman Dan Garodnick of Manhattan's East Side.

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It's the first time in 35 years that a sitting Manhattan borough president is running for something other than mayor, and Stringer's withdrawal from the field of likely candidates changes the other candidates' calculus somewhat. One Democratic operative not aligned with any campaign told me the headline on this item should be: "2013 starts today: field wide open." 

Stringer's absence could be a boost for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is from the West Village and is now the only candidate from Manhattan. Stringer would have attacked her (and had begin to, gently) as overly close to Michael Bloomberg. That's over now.

("Scott is a fantastic public servant with an impressive record of accomplishment and will do great things for the city in the future," Quinn said in a statement.)

But not having Stringer around could also be good for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a labor-allied citizen of Brownstone Brooklyn who can now claim the Bloomberg-independent lefty mantle.

Stringer's move now "clarifies the 2013 landscape and identifies Bill as the clear progressive alternative," a de Blasio campaign spokeswoman, Rebecca Katz, said in a statement.

De Blasio too, in a statement this evening, issued a statement praising Stringer, who occupied the same space to the left of Quinn on such issues as Paid Sick Leave legislation and stop-and-frisk reform, which could actually allow him to make a play for some of the liberal white voters in Manhattan who might otherwise have gone for Stringer. (In the 2009 race for public advocate, de Blasio beat former public advocate Mark Green, a Manhattan resident, in Stringer's Upper West Side Assembly district.)

Stringer's withdrawal also creates some interesting subplots, freeing up surrogates like Rep. Jerry Nadler, who are known and trusted commodities among liberal super-prime voters. Stringer was once Nadler's chief of staff and the congressman was widely perceived to be supportive of Stringer's mayoral bid. Now, Nadler is up for grabs. A source close to Nadler said the congressman's "focus today is on Scott Stringer's campaign for comptroller. His attention has not turned to the mayor's race and therefore he's made no decision whatsoever."

Nadler supported Quinn over de Blasio in the 2005 speaker's race. But he supported de Blasio over Green for public advocate in 2009, and has a long and close relationship with another mayoral candidate, former comptroller Bill Thompson. (When Nadler endorsed Thompson for mayor in 2009, he was a particularly sharp surrogate, dismissing Michael Bloomberg's agenda as a "five-minute economic plan.")

Then again, the end of Stringer's presumed bid could signal something good for Thompson, too. He's dropping out, after all, because he had no room to run on the left of Quinn with white liberals, and no special claim on the black and Hispanic voters who rallied to Thompson's banner in 2009. If that's true for Stringer, it's at least somewhat true for de Blasio.

Thompson, through a spokesperson, said, "As a former Comptroller for the City of New York I know what the job entails and I know that Scott Stringer would be an exceptional comptroller. His integrity and independence are unquestionable. In addition Scott will bring the executive leadership, fiscal knowledge and sound judgment to the office of comptroller that he has demonstrated repeatedly throughout his accomplished career in public service."

The current comptroller, John Liu, who is ostensibly still running for mayor despite a damaging fund-raising scandal, also welcomed Stringer into the comptroller race.

"Scott's smart in both politics and government," Liu said through a spokesperson. "This is a good move for him politically, and he would be a good comptroller for city government."

[UPDATE: An earlier version of this article misstated the history of mayoral races. It is the first time in 35 years a Manhattan borough president is running for an office other than mayor. It is not the first time in 35 years where a sitting Manhattan borough president is forgoing a mayoral run. Stringer in 2009 and C. Virginia Fields in 2001 were Manhattan borough presidents who decided not to run for mayor.]