Eliot Spitzer’s still got it.
Despite the scandal that forced him to resign as New York's governor, or perhaps because of it, more than 400 people showed up to hear Spitzer’s insights on the state of the economy and political climate.
Charismatic, fast-talking and approachable, the former politician received an overwhelmingly warm reception from a Syracuse University audience that was forced to relocate from an overflowing Maxwell Auditorium to Hendricks Chapel for the talk entitled, “Libertarianism to Angry Populism: Have We Learned Anything From the Crisis of the Past Two Years?”
“In 20 years, I’d never seen Maxwell Auditorium that full,” said Prof. Mark Rupert, chair of SU's political science department.
A litte more than a year after becoming New York's governor in 2007, Spitzer was linked to a federal government investigation into a prostitution ring and resigned from his state post on March 17, 2008, because of what called "private failings."
Spitzer's talk at SU focused on the role of the government in the marketplace, what kind of reform the economy needs, and the danger of populism. The market is designed to push people to certain limits and foster competition he said, and sometimes the government has to step in to regulate.
“We were living in the world of Ayn Rand," Spitzer said. "We thought that government was the problem. It didn’t occur to us that government could be the one to fix the problem.”
Event coordinator Horace Campbell, a professor in the African American studies and political science departments, said Spitzer was an obvious choice to bring to campus in light of the current economic crisis.
“We need to be discussing the issues more,” Campbell said. “We know that students are hungry to know more (and) for this kind of conversation.”
While many questions from the audience related to Spitzer's topic, interest in his personal life surfaced. Spitzer neatly passed on a question that alluded to his notorious scandal.
“No, I’m not going to answer that,” Spitzer said.
He also maneuvered around questions about his future career plans. One audience member suggested Spitzer continue his career in Washington D.C., or make a run for the White House.
“If I were President Obama, what would you let me appoint you to?” asked the man.
“I hate to break this to you, but you’re not President Obama,” Spitzer replied.
Political science and history junior Caitlin Horgan admired Spitzer’s professionalism.
“I think a lot of people went for the name factor and not necessarily to hear what he had to say," Horgan said. "When the scandal came up in the Q&A and he refused to answer it, I thought that was very professional.
“He’s a very brilliant man despite of everything, and affairs are nothing uncommon."
After being swarmed by a throng of students and reporters before even leaving the Hendricks Chapel stage, Spitzer made his way to the Noble Room of Hendricks Chapel to field even more questions.
“I came to SU because I was invited,” Spitzer said. “But I normally turn down 99 percent of the invitations I receive.
"SU is one of those great institutions, and I’m excited about what you’re doing here.”