Spitzer to Step Down as N.Y. Governor
Thursday, March 13, 2008
NEW YORK, March 12 -- New York Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer, a rising Democratic Party star who won election 16 months ago as a crusading reformer against corruption, announced his resignation Wednesday after being ensnared in a federal investigation that exposed his double life as a longtime regular client of high-priced prostitutes.
With his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, at his side, Spitzer apologized for what he said were "my private failings" and said he is stepping down so as not to "disrupt the people's work." He said the resignation will take effect Monday, to give his successor, Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson, time to make a smooth transition.
Spitzer's resignation still leaves him in legal limbo, with prosecutors having given no public signals whether he might face prosecution. Three high-profile criminal defense lawyers who accompanied Spitzer to his Manhattan office, where he made his announcement, are trying to resolve his legal predicament with federal prosecutors.
Though Spitzer's legal troubles appear likely to drag on, there was a palpable sense of relief in Albany, the capital, and across the state that the tawdry sex scandal of the previous 48 hours -- being played out in graphic detail in the pages of the local tabloid newspapers -- was becoming his private legal matter and that the state could return to its normal business. Legislators of both parties rushed to praise Paterson, 53, who will become New York's first African American governor and the first governor of any state who is legally blind.
"When one door closes, another door opens up," said state Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco (R), who had threatened to lead impeachment proceedings against the governor had he tried to stay in his job. "We've gotten this distraction over with, which had really gridlocked everything. We're excited about the potential of our new governor."
Spitzer's fall was all the more stunning because he had been elected in November 2006 with 69 percent of the vote, the most ever in a New York gubernatorial race, and some Democrats even said he could possibly become the country's first Jewish president.
But his life and career began unraveling last week, when federal agents, acting on wiretaps, busted a high-class New Jersey-based prostitution ring, called Emperors Club VIP, and arrested four people. The criminal complaint listed an anonymous "Client 9," who was heard calling the escort service to arrange for a call girl named "Kristen" to meet him for a Feb. 13 tryst at Washington's Mayflower Hotel.
The client allegedly paid for the woman's train fare from New York to Washington and $4,300 for a two-hour session. Law enforcement sources confirmed this week that Client 9 was Spitzer.
Sources familiar with the case said Spitzer remains under investigation for possible violations of the Mann Act, which prohibits interstate travel "for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery" or for other "immoral purposes."
He could also face conspiracy and money-laundering charges, the sources said. A more streamlined case could involve charges that Spitzer structured his payments to the escort service in a way that was designed to evade bank-reporting requirements.
Negotiations between Spitzer and prosecutors are probably complicated by many variables, including his desire to avoid losing his license to practice law, said New York University law professor Stephen Gillers.
Under New York law, lawyers are automatically disbarred once they are convicted of a felony in state court. But if they plead guilty in federal court to what state law considers a misdemeanor, lawyers are subject to a range of lesser sanctions including public reprimand and suspension.