By Hilary Russ
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Win or lose, the next chapter in the political career of former New York governor Eliot Spitzer begins on Tuesday night.
Spitzer, whose political ascent came to a halt five years ago in a prostitution scandal, is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for New York City comptroller, a post akin to the city's chief financial officer.
Most polls show the race as a toss-up, a sign voters are paying attention to the man who first won the limelight for taking on big Wall Street banks as state attorney general. That stands in counterpoint to former U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner, who resigned after sending lewd pictures of himself over the Internet and is trailing in his bid for the Democratic nomination for New York mayor.
The support Spitzer has drawn from likely voters, according to recent polls, suggests that even a loss against Scott Stringer, currently Manhattan borough president, might not mark the end of the road for Spitzer, 54.
"Don't count him out," said long-time Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf. "He's young enough and he's got money."
If elected, Spitzer has promised to reinvent the comptroller's post just as he refocused the role of state attorney general on financial crimes. Observers said a victory on Tuesday could be just a first step.
"He ... presumably would not contemplate stopping at being a city comptroller," said Harrison Goldin, the city's former comptroller for 16 years. Goldin has endorsed Stringer.
Voters will decide whether to give another chance to the man who was nicknamed by tabloids the "Love Guv," which eclipsed his prior reputation as the "Sheriff of Wall Street."
Stringer, 53, is a veteran of city and state Democratic politics. The winner of Tuesday's primary will square off against John Burnett, who was unopposed as the Republican candidate, in the November 5 general election. A Republican has not won the position in over six decades.
Spitzer's large, early lead with Democratic voters eroded in the weeks before the primary, with polls on Monday showing the race too close to call - and with Stringer slightly ahead in one poll.
The comptroller manages the city's $140 billion public pension funds, audits a myriad of agencies and is a watchdog for the city's $70 billion budget - which is likely to have a more than $2 billion deficit in fiscal 2015.
Born in the Bronx and raised by his real-estate magnate father, Spitzer has a reputation for toughness and shrewdness, which helped him rise to two terms as state attorney general.
He began that role by going after employers who thought they could steal wages from undocumented immigrant employees, though the Harvard Law School-educated attorney became better known for his hard-nosed investigations of financial firms.
Just over a year after being sworn in as governor, Spitzer was caught on a wiretap talking to an escort service to arrange a date with a prostitute. He resigned almost immediately, but was never charged with a crime.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Matthew Lewis)