Former USG president Spitzer '81 plans run for N.Y. governor
Though he didn't know it, the political career of New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer '81 began in the middle of his sophomore year, when he was elected USG president. Spitzer now plans to run as a Democratic candidate for governor of New York in 2006.
Close friend Carl Mayer '81 recalled that Spitzer campaigned for the USG presidency on a platform to push back the pass/fail deadline until after midterms. "You used to have to declare the decision immediately, but Eliot supported the change to give students more time to decide," Mayer said.
While Spitzer's other friends thought the position was ridiculous and teased that they would run a "whistle-stop campaign on the Dinky," Spitzer took the position very seriously, Mayer said.
Spitzer remembers investigating major issues of the day as president, analyzing Princeton's relationship with the international and economic community. For example, he worked on the divestiture of University stock investments in South African companies during the apartheid.
"It was fun," Spitzer said about his term in office, but said that this position significantly influenced his future career in politics as well.
The Wilson School graduate said he did not always expect his career to be in politics. In hindsight, however, he acknowledges the program's tremendous influence on his career.
"What I loved about the Wilson School was the freedom to take courses in diverse areas of study, all of which counted for credit for the major," Spitzer said. "This very characteristic that enabled me to be a dilettante all throughout college also marked the intersection of my intellectual pursuits and policy issues that are found in my current job."
After Princeton, Spitzer attended Harvard Law School, worked for various law firms and served as Assistant District Attorney before being elected New York State Attorney General in 1998.
"People find it hard to believe that I didn't always want to be in politics. But it truly was not a career goal that I woke up with every morning. The relationship between what happened in my career and my education is by no means linear. I could just as easily be working with my dad in business," Spitzer said.
However, according to Anne Mackay-Smith '81, a former Prince editor and a close friend of Spitzer, everyone anticipated that Spitzer would head into the world of politics. "He was extraordinarily bright and had lots of ambition. There was no doubt about what he was going to do," she said.
Similarly, Mayer related how Spitzer impressed everyone in the class. "They thought he would run the country as president," he said.
Spitzer fulfilled the expectations of his classmates when Bob Abrams decided not to run for a fourth term as Attorney General and Spitzer seized the opportunity. He recognized the position's potential to become more expansive.
According to Mackay-Smith, Spitzer made "big changes" from his predecessors as Attorney General. "Eliot always surrounded himself with very intellectual people, and likewise recruited a great deal of mental fire power as Attorney General that made a huge difference," she said.
From prosecuting Merrill Lynch for providing corrupt financial advice to investigating the commercial insurance business, Spitzer has earned a national reputation for combating big business. He's taken on some of the country's most significant industries: pharmaceutical companies, the mutual fund industry, the investment-banking industry and gun manufacturers.
Spitzer plans to run for governor with the hope of rebuilding New York. "The state, which literally has historically been the Empire State, the center of intellectual, economic and cultural activity, is suffering terribly these days. The economic debacle created a period of dislocation that requires difficult choices to be made to prevent the continuation of this downward trajectory," he said.
Spitzer calls for the restructuring of health care, education and economic infrastructure to prepare for a more promising future. While he speaks of the campaign with enthusiasm and optimism, owing to a broad base of support from public polls taken throughout the state, he said that his only job is "to just keep doing what you're doing."
Spitzer said students in pursuit of political careers should be willing to challenge the status quo and to ask hard questions.
"The status quo always has an overwhelming constituency, but the most important thing is to open up issues for discussion, rather than to take the easy way out by embracing what is accepted," he said.
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