Eliot Spitzer ’81, who left the New York governor’s mansion in disgrace after a prostitution scandal, lost Tuesday’s Democratic primary for Comptroller of New York City in a tight race against current Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, The New York Times called the race for Stringer, who received 51.8 percent of the vote. Spitzer received 48.2 percent of the vote.
The comptroller wields considerable power as the city’s chief fiscal officer, managing the investments of $140 billion in municipal pensions and exercising the power to audit city agencies, according to Reuters. Stringer is expected to cruise to victory in the general election, stopping what could have been a successful political comeback for Spitzer.
In a May 2011 interview with The Daily Princetonian, Spitzer spoke about second chances for those whose actions have cost them the public trust.“I think the American public believes in comebacks, whether it’s sports teams or individuals,” he said at the time.
Following his resignation, Spitzer spent the next five years preparing for this comeback attempt, hosting political talk shows for CNN and Current TV, writing for the online magazine Slate and teaching at the City College of New York.
When Spitzer unexpectedly entered the race early this summer, he surged to the top of the polls, enjoying a nearly-20 point lead, according to Real Clear Politics. Stringer steadily chipped away at this early advantage in a campaign that has both touted his record of 20 years in public office and caustically reminded voters of his scandal.
One direct mail piece from the Stringer campaign depicts hands reaching through prison bars on the front and on the back shows a shrugging Spitzer with bold text reading, “Anyone else who committed Eliot Spitzer’s crimes would go to jail.” Spitzer countered these messages by encouraging New Yorkers to judge him by his political legacy instead of his past personal behavior, according to CBS News.The comptroller’s office would have given Spitzer a chance to brush up his political credentials as “The Sheriff of Wall Street,” a nickname he earned as New York State Attorney General for aggressively investigating improper practices in the financial industry. In 2009, 10 of the largest investment firms agreed to pay $1.4 billion in fines as well as implement restrictive new rules as a result of Spitzer’s actions, according to The Washington Post.
“This is going to be an office — if I'm lucky enough to win — where we can do so much in terms of shareholder power, in terms of corporate governance, in terms of protecting pensions, in terms of making sure the city’s money is invested well, spent well,” Spitzer said in an interview with CBS News on Monday.
During his time at Princeton, Spitzer also found a political niche in policing investments. As chairman of the USG, he is best remembered for leading a campaign that demanded Princeton’s divestment from South Africa as a response to the continued apartheid system. Spitzer said at the time he believed that it was “one of the issues that defined the moment.”“The USG has consistently failed to fulfill either its potential or its purpose,” he wrote in The Daily Princetonian in April 1978 while running for class delegate. The USG, Spitzer added, must “develop a statement expressing our view of the University as a catalyst for social change.”
Classmates remember Spitzer for his hard work and serious nature at school.
Peter Elkind ’80, author of “Rough Justice: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” told the ‘Prince’ that Spitzer approached issues like “a classic Woodrow Wilson School” student. “He was very serious at a young age, and that includes student government. He applied himself to the issue of student government, which certainly, when looking back, seemed small, but it’s the seriousness that he applied to balance the budget in New York,” Elkind explained.The general election for the office of the comptroller will be held on Nov. 5.