Spitzer honed his lust for power as Princeton student body president

Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced former governor of New York who is trying to make a comeback running for New York City comptroller, got his first taste of bullying opponents and pushing technocratic rule when he served as the elected president of the student body at Princeton University.

Elected in 1979, Spitzer, class of 1981, gave a youthful demonstration of his expansive attitude toward power by broadly interpreting the purview of what is generally viewed as a symbolic office.

Among other things, Spitzer pushed a proposal to allow Princeton students facing disciplinary hearings to plead the Fifth Amendment for bad behavior and opposed changes to the Ivy League school’s honor code. He also waged a vengeful campaign against one of his critics in student government.

Spitzer “first proposed that students be given a silence privilege in the wake of several student arrests for drug possession in December 1978,” reported the Daily Princetonian newspaper, popularly known as “The Prince,” in February 1980.

“He was concerned that testimony given before the Discipline Committee might be subpoenaed by legal authorities,” The Prince wrote.

spitzercollege2Spitzer’s Carter-era respect for rights of the accused did not suggest the future crusading New York attorney general whose questionable prosecutions of private sector financiers earned him a reputation as the “Scourge of Wall Street.” But it did hint at his habit of seeking the widest possible application of power in any office he holds — a habit he clearly hopes to continue in the comptroller’s office.

“The metaphor is what I did with the attorney general’s office,” Spitzer said in a recent interview about his desire for power over New York City’s finances. “It is ripe for greater and more exciting use of the office’s jurisdiction.”

Spitzer at Princeton was also vocal in fighting a proposed change to the student honor code that penalized students who did not turn in cheating students.

Described by The Prince as “one of the leading opponents of the change,” Spitzer ridiculed the idea that students “rat” one another out and disagreed with the very idea of there being a code in the first place. “Collective honor is not feasible, nor does it mean anything. Individual students will not see a difference between being turned in by a proctor or by a student,” he said.