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Spitzer quits amid prostitution scandal
Question of the Day
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace today even though he failed to cut a last-minute deal with federal prosecutors after getting caught in a call-girl scandal that turned “Mr. Clean” into “Client 9.”
In a statement issued after Mr. Spitzers resignation, U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said there was no deal with the fallen governor.
“There is no agreement between this office and Governor Eliot Spitzer relating to his resignation or any other matter,” he said.
The governor held out for two days since the news broke on Monday, but fellow Democrats began to speak openly about his resignation, so, with his somber wife once again by his side, Mr. Spitzer announced his departure, effective Monday.
“In the past few days, Ive begun to atone for my private failings with my wife, Silda, my children and my entire family. The remorse I feel will always be with me,” he said in a Manhattan press conference packed with reporters.
“Over the course of my public life, I have insisted, I believe correctly, that people, regardless of their position or power, take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself,” Mr. Spitzer said.
Lt. Gov. David Paterson will take over on Monday, becoming New Yorks first black governor. He also will be the states first legally blind governor and its first disabled governor since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Mr. Paterson issued a statement in which he said he was saddened but would move forward.
“It is now time for Albany to get back to work as the people of this state expect from us,” he said.
Mr. Spitzer appeared ready to step down immediately after the news emerged Monday, but lawyers later advised him that he should remain in office as he negotiated with prosecutors over possible charges. Word emerged yesterday that his wife urged him to stay in office, but when an aide to the governor took a count of Democrats who would support the move, it became clear that he could not withstand an impeachment drive.
The governor offered a qualified apology today, saying: “I am deeply sorry I did not live up to what was expected of me.”
He also became wistful about leaving the post he had held for just 15 months, after winning in a landslide by promising to clean up New York politics.
“I look at my time as governor with a sense of what might have been, but I also know that as a public servant, I and the remarkable people with whom I worked have accomplished a great deal.”
He also grew philosophical, saying: “I go forward with the belief, as others have said, that as human beings our greatest glory consists not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”
The governor, who worked as New Yorks attorney general for seven years, said he will next try to “heal myself and my family, then I will try once again, outside of politics, to serve the common good and to move toward the ideals and solutions which I believe can build a future of hope and opportunity for us and for our children.”
The rapid developments were a stunning end to a political career that looked to have no limit.
At 48, Mr. Spitzer had vaulted to the upper echelon of politics, and his name had been floated as a possible U.S. attorney in the event of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clintons election to president. As a superdelegate, he already had endorsed the New York senator and was expected to play a prominent role campaigning for her in the state.
The sex scandal erupted Monday when accusations surfaced that the married father of three teenage daughters spent thousands of dollars on a call girl at the posh Mayflower Hotel in Washington the night before Valentines Day. As the governor canceled all public events that day, rumors swirled that he would resign immediately. He did not but instead holed up yesterday in his Manhattan apartment with his family and lawyers.
Also yesterday, Republicans began threatening impeachment if he didnt step aside, and some Democrats began quietly to urge the governor to resign.
Mr. Spitzer was the target of federal investigators when they opened a probe after banks notified the Internal Revenue Service that Mr. Spitzer was making frequent cash transfers from several accounts.
Law enforcement officials said he was the person identified as “Client 9” in court papers who paid thousands for a night in a Washington hotel with a prostitute named Kristen. According to an affidavit, a federal judge approved wiretaps on the phones of the escort service in January and February.
FBI agents in Washington put Mr. Spitzer under surveillance at least twice on Jan. 26 and Feb. 13 to confirm that a prostitute joined him at the Mayflower Hotel, according to a senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the case. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
The stakeouts came after the FBI recorded phone calls by Mr. Spitzer arranging the tryst, the official said.
Whether U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor, who prosecutes federal and local laws in the District, will bring charges against Mr. Spitzer likely depends on the plea deal the governor is negotiating with the government in New York, two senior law enforcement officials said.
Mr. Spitzer built his political reputation on rooting out government corruption and made a name for himself as attorney general as crusader against shady practices and overly generous compensation. He also cracked down on prostitution.
He was known as the “Sheriff of Wall Street.” Time magazine named him “Crusader of the Year,” and the tabloids proclaimed him “Eliot Ness.”
He rode into the governors office with a historic margin of victory on Jan. 1, 2007, vowing to stamp out corruption in New York government in the same way that he had taken on Wall Street executives with a vengeance as the state’s attorney general.
His term as governor has been fraught with problems, including an unpopular plan to grant drivers licenses to illegal immigrants and a plot by his aides to smear his main Republican nemesis. The prostitution scandal, some said, was too much to overcome.
Mr. Paterson, 53, has been in New York government since his election to the state Senate in 1985. He led the Democratic caucus in the Senate before running with Spitzer as lieutenant governor.
Though legally blind, Mr. Paterson has enough sight in his right eye to walk unaided, recognize people at conversational distance and even read if text is placed close to his face.
At a morning press conference, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Mr. Spitzers chief rival, signaled that partisanship may ease with the departure of the governor.
“We are going to partner with the lieutenant governor when he becomes governor,” Mr. Bruno said. “David has always been very open with me, very forthright I look forward to a positive, productive relationship.”
In an odd twist, Mr. Bruno will be acting governor whenever Mr. Paterson is out of state or if he were to become incapacitated.
This story is based in part on wire service reports.
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