Posted: Oct. 13, 2014
TALES OUT OF SCHOOL
By Celia Cohen
There are any number of politicians who could do without their school days making it onto their permanent political record.
Bill Clinton at Oxford, where he did not inhale. Joe Biden living down an old plagiarism charge from law school. Chris Coons in a college newspaper poking fun at himself as a bearded Marxist.
Now Ken Simpler, too.
Before Simpler was the Republican candidate for treasurer, before he spent 20 years as a chief financial officer and investment manager, he went to Princeton.
In addition to the Ivy League academics and the distinction of having Woodrow Wilson as a university president who became president, Princeton is known for its eating clubs, an equivalent of fraternities and sororities, and the eating clubs have been known to overdo it on the drinking.
Shocking, that. College students getting soused.
It was 1988. Simpler was 20 years old. The eating clubs were welcoming new members, and Simpler was the new president of one of the eating clubs.
It was a very liquid evening, so liquid that a New York Times story at the time counted 45 students either in the college infirmary or a local hospital. Some of the excessive drinking was said to involve students on their backs with cocktails poured into their mouths to see who could swallow the most.
Liquor-boarding? If the CIA did it, there would be a congressional inquiry.
Simpler and another officer of his eating club were charged with serving alcohol to minors. The seriousness of what could have happened was magnified when a Rutgers student died shortly thereafter from excessive drinking during a fraternity initiation.
An irate local judge, indicating he wanted to make an example out of Simpler and the other officer, sentenced them to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
It was a sentence even more excessive than the drinking. In fact, Princeton's president put out a statement calling it "disproportionate and excessive," and the sentence was overturned on appeal. It was changed to probation and community service.
Simpler makes no effort to excuse or distance himself from his college-age conduct.
"I do accept responsibility for everything that happened. I never served a single drink that night. It was a chance for a young guy to learn when you are in charge of an organization, you own what happens. That was a life lesson," Simpler said in an interview on Monday.
"We were doing the same thing everyone has done at Princeton for decades. I didn't question it. That was another life lesson."
Simpler called the experience his "one and only interaction with our legal system," although that will change if he wins the treasurer's race on Election Day against Sean Barney, the Democratic candidate, because the treasurer sits on the Delaware Board of Pardons.
The five-member panel -- composed of the lieutenant governor, the chancellor, the secretary of state, the treasurer and the auditor -- is responsible for making recommendations of clemency or commutation to the governor, who ultimately decides whether to grant it.
Rather than becoming soured on the legal system, Simpler says his encounter with it left him with a respect he would bring to the Board of Pardons, because the system worked when it threw out his sentence as overly harsh.
"While I was not wrongly accused, but held up as an example, I did see the legal system correct that," Simpler said.
It was a long time ago, but politics never forgets. Even if it is never as history-making as I didn't inhale, there will always be I never served a single drink.