In the end, the self-proclaimed “steamroller” was felled by an adversary no one anticipated: himself.
With his wife by his side, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer ’81 announced yesterday that he was resigning from his post, two days after media reports linking him to a high-priced prostitution ring were published.
“Over the course of my public life, I have insisted, I believe correctly, that people — regardless of their position or power — take responsibility for their conduct,” Spitzer said in an announcement from his Manhattan office.
“I can and will ask no less of myself,” he added. “I am deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me.”
Spitzer’s departure, scheduled formally for Monday, paves the way for David Paterson, New York’s lieutenant governor, to be elevated to the highest post in the state, making him the first African American to occupy the position. Paterson will also be the first legally blind governor in U.S. history.
Alumni who knew Spitzer when he was a student at Princeton said the governor made the right decision by stepping down. But they also expressed confidence that the tough-minded former prosecutor, who made a name for himself with his high-profile cases and often contentious tactics, would bounce back.
“I think he made the right choice, but it is a tragic choice for someone with as much talent and brain power as Eliot Spitzer,” said Eric Yollick ’83, who served in the USG with Spitzer as a freshman. “He has made a real mistake here, but, as he said, he is only human.”
But, Yollick added, “I have no doubt that he’s going to get back on his feet and do some very, very good things.”
“I think Eliot made the best decision for his family and for his public office,” said John Frank ’81, who, like Spitzer, majored in the Wilson School and was a member of Cloister Inn.
Spitzer largely secluded himself from the public after the news of his connection to the prostitution ring and a related federal investigation first broke. He made a terse statement Monday afternoon, apologizing to his family and to the public, but saying that he would “get back to you in short order” in response to questions about his potential resignation.
He spent Monday and Tuesday at his Fifth Avenue apartment, surrounded by close personal and legal advisers, deliberating whether to step down from his position as reporters engaged in incessant will-he-or-won’t-he speculation.
When contacted at home Monday night by The Daily Princetonian, Spitzer declined to comment on his situation. Asked whether he would resign, he said simply, “I just can’t answer the question.” Reached again Wednesday, Spitzer declined to comment beyond his statement earlier in the week.
In college, Spitzer distinguished himself as a strong-willed chairman of the USG. Sebastian Conde ’80, who was the USG academics director under Spitzer, described him as “a great leader, even in those young years so long ago.”
“He had a vision, was articulate, but above all he cared about what each of us thought,” Conde said in an e-mail earlier this week. “Don’t get me wrong, he made us work hard, but when all had piled up to the point of tipping over, he would come around with a warm smile, sleeves rolled up and say, OK, let’s see how we can make it happen.”
But even then, Spitzer drew criticism for his leadership style. A group of students who called themselves the “Antarctica Liberation Front” ran a slate of candidates for USG in opposition to Spitzer and his peers.
“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.
During his time as chairman, Spitzer fought a USG resolution that opposed then-President Jimmy Carter’s call to reinstate registration for the draft according to a Feb. 11, 1980 story in the ‘Prince.’ He also fought to guarantee students’ right to silence without the presumption of guilt when appearing before the Committee on Discipline according to Spitzer’s platform published in the ‘Prince’ on March 6, 1979.
Spitzer, a rising star in the Democratic Party whom some had mentioned for a possible presidential run, served as attorney general of New York before winning the governorship with 69 percent of the vote in 2006.
The resignation and the circumstances leading to it also elicited shock and disappointment among many New Yorkers on campus.
“We thought he was one of those people who wasn’t one of the typical corrupt, or in any way tainted, politicians,” said Jason Anton ’10, a native of Yorktown Heights. “This was sort of what he campaigned on.”
George Tsivin ’11, a resident of New York City, said, “I looked up to him and hoped to follow in his footsteps.” But now, he added, “[Spitzer] is not appearing to be the role model he once was.”
— Senior writer Daniella Roseman contributed reporting to this article.