The equalizer, continued

Eliot SpitzerSpitzer looks back fondly at his HLS days. He forged lasting friendships and political alliances there, and it is where he met his wife. Among his favorite classes were a seminar on international treaties and arms control with Abram Chayes '49 and a corporate tax class with Alvin Warren. He also admired Alan Dershowitz, for whom he worked as a research assistant when Dershowitz was defending Claus von Bulow. "He was one of my favorite students," recalls Dershowitz, who remembers Spitzer as "the library guy" and says, "He was such a shy young man, the only student who always called me 'sir.'" But, Dershowitz continues, "He is an absolutely first-rate, brilliant lawyer. If I ever started a law firm and Eliot were out there, he'd be the first guy I'd want to hire, based on legal skills."

Spitzer's wife and '84 classmate, Silda Wall, is president of Children for Children, a New York not-for-profit that fosters community involvement and social responsibility in young people through youth service and philanthropy programs. They have three daughters, Elyssa (15), Sarabeth (12) and Jenna (10), and two homes, one in Manhattan and one in Columbia County, N.Y. Spitzer admits that finding a work-family balance is a struggle. He travels at least two days a week as attorney general, and now he is adding campaign activities on top of that. He makes a point of being home by 9 p.m. on weekdays, and he sets aside every other weekend to spend with family.

"He's a great dad and a great husband, as well as being right on every issue," says Jim Cramer '84, Spitzer's longtime friend. Cramer, a former Goldman Sachs trader who once ran his own hedge fund, is the markets commentator on both CNBC and TheStreet.com. With his ear constantly to Wall Street, Cramer has heard many criticisms of Spitzer's investigations of the financial services industry. "So many people on Wall Street think he has overstepped," he says. "I find that somewhat funny. I think the bad guys have overstepped. Eliot has a sense of outrage about what other people see as business as usual. He has a finely calibrated sense of fairness and honesty, and he understands what corruption means."

In addition to the Wall Street critics, there are those who accuse Spitzer of inspiring other state attorneys general to bring suits that previously would have been the province of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency or U.S. Attorney's Offices. Spitzer is fueling a federalism debate over the regulatory and enforcement roles of states' attorneys general--even though the issue predates his tenure, beginning in earnest with the state tobacco litigation of the late 1990s. But even Spitzer has some concerns over 50 different attorneys general pursuing the same industries in different ways. "I am not thrilled at the notion of a Balkanized regulatory world," he says. "I am sympathetic to the view that it leads to inconsistency."

At the same time, however, Spitzer says that a little healthy competition among prosecutors and regulators is beneficial. "Competition works--even in law enforcement and in regulatory agencies," he says. "Monopolies don't work in the private sector or in government." The competition from Spitzer has spurred federal prosecutors and regulators, as well as other states' attorneys general, to keep pace.

"Balkanization is not a bad thing," says Dershowitz. "It's not bad to have different offices with different results. Everyone wants to be Eliot Spitzer now, and that's a very good message."

As Spitzer's reputation as a righter of corporate wrongs has grown, his office has been regularly besieged with phone calls and tips on conflicts of interest and fraud. It has also become routine for people--"serious people," Spitzer says--to approach him on the campaign trail with new reports of fraud in financial services. "People care about their money, and if they know you will act on tips, they will come to you," he says. "Success breeds success."

Even Dershowitz is getting inquiries from people seeking Spitzer's help. "I get calls from people saying, 'We got screwed in California. Is there anything Spitzer can do?' He's become a symbol of rectitude," says Dershowitz. "He'd be a phenomenal governor, senator, president--or anything else he wants to be."

Michelle Bates Deakin is a writer living in Arlington, Mass. She is the author of "Gay Marriage, Real Life," to be published by Skinner House Books this fall.

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