New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned Wednesday. New York Lt. Gov. David Paterson will succeed him as the first African American governor of New York. Here both men are pictured on the campaign trail in May 2006: Spitzer is at left, Paterson, who is legally blind, stands behind him at right.
David Paterson takes job after Spitzer broke laws he helped enforce
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who built his career fighting corruption, resigned Wednesday, saying he was "deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me."
Spitzer is facing allegations that he paid thousands of dollars to a prostitution ring, and paid for a woman to travel across state lines to meet him, which made the crime a federal offense.
With his wife Silda, at his side, Spitzer thanked his family for standing by him. "The remorse I feel will always be with me," he said. "To every New Yorker and to those who believed in what I tried to stand for, I sincerely apologize."
Spitzer's resignation is effective March 17. His successor will be David Paterson, who now will be the first-ever African American governor of New York state and the fourth in U.S. history. Paterson, who is legally blind, was first elected to represent New York's 30th district, which includes Harlem, in 1985. A Democrat, he became New York Senate Minority Leader in 2002.
He was elected on a ticket with Spitzer in 2006 to become the state's first Black lieutenant governor.
"I hope all of New York will be joining my prayers for my friend David Paterson as he embarks on his new mission," Spitzer said in his resignation speech.
A law enforcement official reported that the governor first came under suspicion because of cash payments from several bank accounts to an account operated by a call-girl ring. Spitzer was the initial target of the investigation and was tracked using court-ordered wiretaps that appear to have recorded him arranging for a prostitute to meet him at a Washington hotel in mid-February, the official said.
The official who spoke to The Associated Press requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
The scandal surrounding the man who built his political reputation on rooting out corruption stunned the state. Calls for Spitzer's resignation began immediately and intensified Tuesday with the New York Daily News, New York Post and Newsday all demanding that he step down.
"Hit the road, John ... and make it quick!" read the headline of the Daily News editorial, while the Post called him "NY's naked emperor."
Spitzer retreated from public view Monday afternoon, after appearing glassy-eyed with his shellshocked wife, Silda standing beside him.. At that appearance he apologized to his family and the public, but did not directly acknowledge any involvement with the prostitute.
"I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and violates my — or any — sense of right and wrong," he said. "I apologize to the public, whom I promised better."
Silda Spitzer's appearance– where she took the now customary role of standing silently with her husband as he acknowledged wrongdoing — has led to contentious discussions on television and blogs. Some commentators say wives should let their husbands take the heat alone.
Spitzer has not been charged, and prosecutors would not comment on the case. A Spitzer spokesman said the governor has retained a large Manhattan law firm.
The case started when banks noticed the frequent transfers from several accounts and filed suspicious activity reports with the Internal Revenue Service, the law enforcement official told the AP. The accounts were traced back to Spitzer, prompting public corruption investigators to open an inquiry.
The inquiry found that Spitzer was a repeat customer with the Emperors Club VIP, a high-priced prostitution service, the official said. In an affidavit filed in Manhattan federal court last week, Spitzer appeared as "Client 9," according to another law enforcement official who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
Client 9 wanted a high-priced prostitute named Kristen to come to Washington on a 5:39 p.m. train from Manhattan Feb. 13. The door to the hotel room would be left ajar. Train tickets, cab fare, room service, and the minibar were all on him.
"Yup, same as in the past. No question about it," the caller told Kristen's boss, when asked if he would make his payment to the same business as usual, a federal affidavit said. The client paid $4,300 to Kristen, touted by the escort service as a "petite, pretty brunette," according to the court papers.
The Feb. 13 tryst took place in the Mayflower hotel, where Spitzer rented a second room for the woman under another name, according to the law enforcement official who spoke to The AP on Tuesday. Spitzer had to sneak past his State Police detail to get to her room, the official said.
According to the court papers, an Emperors Club agent was told by the prostitute that her evening with Client 9 went well. The agent said she had been told that the client "would ask you to do things that ... you might not think were safe ... very basic things," according to the papers, but Kristen responded by saying: "I have a way of dealing with that ... I'd be, like, listen dude, you really want the sex?"
Spitzer, a 48-year-old father of three teenage girls, was elected with a historic margin of victory, and took office Jan. 1, 2007, vowing to stamp out corruption in New York government in the same way that he took on Wall Street executives while state attorney general.
Spitzer's cases as attorney general included a few criminal prosecutions of prostitution rings and tourism involving prostitutes. He also uncovered crooked practices and self-dealing in the stock brokerage and insurance industries and in corporate board rooms; he went after former New York Stock Exchange chairman Richard Grasso over his $187.5 million compensation package.
Spitzer become known as the "Sheriff of Wall Street." Time magazine named him "Crusader of the Year," and the tabloids proclaimed him "Eliot Ness," a reference to the government agent whose team of investigators, dubbed "The Untouchables," became famous for battling organized crime in Chicago in the 1920s.
It would not be the first time that a high-profile politician became ensnared in a prostitution scandal. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana acknowledged in July that his Washington phone number was among those called several years ago by an escort service.
--The Associated Press and The Skanner staff.