Decades ago, Spitzer ’81 stirred rebels
Spitzer and the Antarctica Liberation Front (ALF) butted heads at the University at the beginning of the 1980s after the ALF ran humorous campaigns following Spitzer's time as USG chairman.
“The reason we had some popularity on campus was because people were not in love with the way Eliot handled being USG chairman,” said Jordan Becker ’82, who was in the group at the time.
Becker, who was elected as Undergraduate Life Committee chairman in 1981, said that there was “a sense of [Spitzer] being very ambitious and very focused on his power.”
Spitzer has been characterized as an aggressive politician throughout his career. He famously called himself a “fucking steamroller” and threatened to “steamroll” Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco (R), who questioned the governor’s proposed ethics reform bill.
ALF was founded in 1978, and during the 1981 and 1982 USG elections, members ran for several USG positions on a slogan that would no doubt raise red flags today: “JIHAD!”
“Let’s be plain,” read the candidate statement of Daniel Arovas ’82, who sought the USG vice chair position in 1980. “The Antarctica Liberation Front is interested in a sacred cause ... ours is a righteous cause, a noble duty. And woe unto him who would shirk that duty, for he shall face the wrath of small furry creatures. Jihad!”
“We were just out to have fun,” said Arovas, a former ALF member who is now a physics professor at the University of California-San Diego.
The group’s joke campaigns propelled its members to the position of USG social chair in 1980, and three of the group’s six candidates won USG spots, including vice chair, in 1981.
Having taken control of the USG, the ALF’s first actions were declaring war on the Hun School of Princeton and laying claim to the little sliver of land between the parallel yellow lines on highways.
The ALF attributed at least some of its success to Spitzer’s reputation as USG chairman.
Arovas emphasized, however, that he was not anti-Spitzer. The ALF was founded in Arovas’ freshman year as a party running for residential college offices in the Princeton Inn — now Forbes College — before Spitzer was involved in USG, he said.
“I wouldn’t want to trivialize what’s going on now. It’s a tragedy,” he added. “There are many things he tried to accomplish that I would have supported [if I lived in New York].”
Leslie Ehrlich ’82, the only winning ALF candidate in the 1980 election, added that the ALF was “not thinking in particular of Eliot Spitzer,” but that the fallen New York governor “had a reputation of being a bit, perhaps overly, serious or ... self-important.”
“[Spitzer] showed some frustration not only that we had run, but that we were successful,” she said.
His frustration may have had something to do with the ALF’s often humorous and always offbeat platforms.
“The Academics Committee ... has failed to correct a serious injustice: Grades are unfairly biased in favor of those who are smart or work hard,” wrote Kenneth Dellapenta ’83, ALF’s 1980 candidate for USG academic chairman, who lost by fewer than 50 votes. “I will attempt to alleviate this inequity by the establishment of a lottery system, thus distributing grades in a just and random manner ... Jihad!”
ALF member and 1981 USG vice chair John Muller ’82’s campaign statement read, “I personally have seen enough of the Milquetoast style of law enforcement on this campus. What Princeton needs is a good strong dose of discipline, and, if that won’t work, FEAR ... Jihad!”
After getting elected, Muller began running USG meetings in his own theatrical style. More serious USG members were not impressed, and consequently began to walk out of meetings to force a lack of quorum. The ALF retaliated by recruiting lacrosse players to guard the doors and keep the members from leaving.
Their unusual positions seemed to have inspired students. The ALF garnered 38 percent of the overall USG vote in 1981 on its way to greater success in 1982.
“Clearly, the people have finally realized that the only way to purify Western civilization is by liberating the continent of destiny,” Muller said in an interview in The Daily Princetonian upon his party’s 1982 success, referring, of course, to the continent of Antarctica.
By the end of 1982, however, the ALF had ceased to be a dominant presence in student government.
“We felt we had made our point, and we stepped down. ... It was our own form of political commentary to run a joke campaign against a student government that took itself so seriously,” Ehrlich said.
“[The ALF] was a joke which snowballed and got bigger and bigger,” Arovas said.
The group recently reunited with ALF signs at its 25th Reunion in 2003.
“When we carry signs and march in reunion, everybody remembers the Antarctic[a] Liberation Front,” Ehrlich said. “We touched a nerve, and [it] resonated with people.”