Paterson Says He's Ready to To Take Helm Of N.Y. State

David Paterson, who will become New York's first black governor and the first legally blind chief executive in the nation, said Thursday he is ready to lead the state after Gov. Eliot Spitzer's stunning resignation amid a call-girl scandal. Video by AP
By Keith B. Richburg and Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 14, 2008

NEW YORK, March 13 -- Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson, who on Monday will take over the leadership of a state still stunned by the swift downfall of its governor in a sex scandal, on Thursday declared himself ready to govern and said, "Now we have to get New York back on track."

"I am prepared," said Paterson (D), speaking to reporters in the state capital, Albany. "At this point, it is time to get back to the business of the state."

Acknowledging the unusual circumstances that have thrust him into the spotlight, Paterson said: "I did not get to this position in the way that most people have or that most people would want."

As Paterson spoke, the departing governor, Eliot L. Spitzer (D), spent another day out of public view in his Upper East Side apartment in Manhattan, making no appearances and issuing no statements despite the media throng encamped outside.

And 55 blocks to the south, in the city's Flatiron district, Ashley Alexandra Dupre, the 22-year-old prostitute whose alleged February liaison with Spitzer in a Washington hotel was monitored by federal agents, also remained out of sight in her apartment building, with another media throng outside.

According to federal law enforcement sources, agents wiretapping Spitzer recorded him making arrangements with a high-dollar escort service, Emperors Club VIP, to meet "Kristen" -- identified in news reports as Dupre -- at Washington's Mayflower Hotel, and transferring money to one of the escort service's front companies. After their two-hour tryst, the governor paid the prostitute an additional $4,300, according to a federal complaint.

Spitzer announced Wednesday that he will resign, but he still faces the possibility of criminal charges that could include trying to hide the payments to the escort service to avoid federal bank reporting requirements, and paying for Dupre's train fare to Washington, which might have been in violation of a federal stature called the Mann Act, originally instituted to combat "white slavery."

The U.S. attorney in Manhattan has not said whether any charges will be filed against Spitzer. In New York, "johns" who use prostitutes are normally not prosecuted. Former and current prosecutors not involved in the investigation said that filing charges of violating the Mann Act, which prohibits interstate travel for the purpose of prostitution, would be unusual enough to expose the Justice Department to criticism.

Based on what is now publicly known, the prosecutors said, Spitzer's legal problems may center on whether he structured escort-service payments in small increments to evade IRS reporting requirements. In all likelihood, they said, senior Justice Department officials will be consulted about pursuing any case.

When asked whether Spitzer should be prosecuted, Paterson was sympathetic to his friend while acknowledging that others might not be so forgiving. "I think he's suffered enough," Paterson said, but he added that others who feel betrayed by Spitzer "probably think whatever punishment he might get wouldn't be enough."

"This is why we have dispassionate law enforcement that looks into these situations," Paterson said. "We should leave it in their hands and support them, which I do."

Dupre, meanwhile, faces her own legal problems. She has received a grand jury subpoena to testify against the four people charged with operating Emperors Club VIP, according to Dupre's attorney, Don D. Buchwald. He said he will not confirm whether Dupre was "Kristen."

"I can't say more than generally confirming the accuracy of the personal information about Ashley" that appeared in news reports, Buchwald said. Asked how the young woman was doing in the intense glare of the New York media spotlight, he said: "Under the circumstances, she's doing fine."

Daniel S. Parker is a lawyer for Cecil Suwal, one of the four charged with running the escort service. "Any case as scandalous and lurid as this one would be overwhelming for anybody accused of committing a crime. My client was arrested and accused of being part of this prostitution ring," he said. "It's overwhelming for her."

Staff writers Susan Schmidt and Carrie Johnson in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company