New York: Sptizer forced out over trivial offense

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Richard Moore

Mar 13, 2008, 6:07:59 AM3/13/08

March 13, 2008

Spitzer Resigns in Sex Scandal and Turns His Attention to Healing His Family


Gov. Eliot Spitzer, whose rise to political power as a fierce enforcer of ethics in public life was undone by revelations of his own involvement with prostitutes, resigned on Wednesday, becoming the first New York governor to leave office amid scandal in nearly a century.

The resignation will be effective on Monday at noon. Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson, a state legislator for 22 years and the heir to a Harlem political dynasty, will be sworn in as New York¹s 55th governor, making him the state¹s first black chief executive.

Mr. Spitzer announced he was stepping down at a grim appearance at his Midtown Manhattan office, less than 48 hours after it emerged that he had been intercepted on a federal wiretap confirming plans to meet a call girl from a high-priced prostitution service in Washington, leaving the public stunned and angered and bringing business in the State Capitol to a halt.

With his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, at his side, Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat, said he would leave political life to concentrate on healing himself and his family.

³Over 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,² he said. ³I can and will ask no less of myself. For this reason, I am resigning from the office of governor.²

Mr. Spitzer, 48, spoke in a somber but steady voice, softening his usual barking tone. He took no questions. His wife, in a dark suit and a brightly colored scarf, looked off to the side, occasionally glancing up to reveal deep circles beneath her eyes.

Though he came into office last January with a sweeping electoral mandate for change, Mr. Spitzer¹s time as governor was marked by fierce combat and costly stumbles. He faced a scandal last year after members of his staff used the State Police to disseminate damaging information about his chief Republican rival, Joseph L. Bruno, the leader of the State Senate.

Since Monday, Mr. Spitzer has been consumed with crisis, trying to salvage his marriage and his career and avoid federal charges stemming from the case.

A man defined by ambition and relentlessness, Mr. Spitzer appeared to struggle with the decision to relinquish power. On Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Spitzer instructed his staff to contact the office of Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the Assembly and a fellow Democrat, to see if an impeachment vote could be avoided.

But it was clear during the discussions that it was hopeless, with many Democrats prepared to abandon him.

During his remarks, which lasted less than three minutes, Mr. Spitzer did not address the pending criminal investigation, and it remained unclear what legal issues, if any, Mr. Spitzer will face.

The United States attorney investigating the case issued a statement shortly after the resignation saying that his office does not have any arrangement with the governor.

In Albany, some of Mr. Spitzer¹s staff members were clearing out their desks as Mr. Paterson and his top aides prepared to move into the executive offices. Charles O¹Byrne, a longtime assistant to Mr. Paterson, is replacing Richard Baum as the governor¹s top aide. Most other top Spitzer loyalists were expected to depart.

Mr. Spitzer¹s resignation was accompanied by relief, shock and a sense of the surreal. Legislative leaders from both parties voiced condolences to Mr. Spitzer¹s wife and three daughters and welcomed Mr. Paterson.

Mr. Bruno, who had once called Mr. Spitzer ³a spoiled brat,² shunned fiery language on Wednesday.

He said he hoped Mr. Spitzer¹s ignominious fall would force lawmakers to focus more intently on addressing the state¹s financial crisis, and he declined to say how Mr. Spitzer¹s departure might affect the fight for control of the State Senate this year.

³I¹m going to leave it to the governor and his family to sort out how they deal with present circumstances and the future,² Mr. Bruno said at a morning news conference. ³And frankly, I have them in my prayers.²

Many Democrats on the floor of the Assembly seemed almost jovial in the hours after Mr. Spitzer resigned. Some admitted privately that they were happy that the contentious and sometimes scolding governor was being replaced by Mr. Paterson, a likable lawmaker comfortable with the customs of Albany. Mr. Paterson will have to adjust quickly: The deadline for passing next year¹s budget is March 31.

Mr. Spitzer had never seemed completely at ease in the hallways of the Capitol, and as this week¹s crisis engulfed him, few in the state¹s political establishment came forward to offer support. And since Monday, the governor had disappeared from public view, retreating to his Fifth Avenue apartment for what associates described as agonizing deliberations with his wife, lawyers and a handful of close friends.

The son of a wealthy real estate investor, Mr. Spitzer was educated at Princeton University and Harvard Law School and worked as a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney¹s office before being elected New York¹s attorney general in 1998.

It was there that Mr. Spitzer built a reputation as a prosecutorial avenger, bringing some of Wall Street¹s biggest names to heel and pressuring banks, insurance companies and brokerage houses to pay defrauded investors huge settlements and to adopt tighter regulations.

The audacity of Mr. Spitzer¹s vision and his combative style made him a reviled figure on Wall Street. But to millions of Americans who felt swindled in an age when executive salaries and the income gap between rich and middle class were rapidly growing, Mr. Spitzer was viewed as a guardian against corporate excess.

He was so successful at using the relatively limited office of the state attorney general to redress the regulatory failures of the federal Securities and Exchange Commission that he was swept into the governor¹s office in a landslide. Some of Mr. Spitzer¹s admirers mused that he might one day be the first Jewish president.

And as he stepped to the podium shortly after 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, some Wall Street traders watched gleefully as his career came to an abrupt end.

Elsewhere, Mr. Spitzer¹s departure stirred other emotions. Susan B. A. Samuel of South Ozone Park, Queens, said she was proud that New York would have its first black governor.

³I¹m very proud to say that he¹s a brother,² said Ms. Samuel, who is black. ³I¹m very excited. It is kind of a sweet sorrow.²

Mr. Paterson, who asked Mr. Spitzer to delay his departure until Monday so he could be sworn in before a joint session of the Legislature, issued a brief statement offering condolences to the Spitzers and promising to quickly turn his attention to governing.

³It is now time for Albany to get back to work as the people of this state expect from us,² Mr. Paterson said.

Mr. Spitzer becomes the first New York governor to resign since 1973, when Nelson A. Rockefeller stepped down to devote himself to a policy group, and the first to be forced out since William Sulzer was impeached in 1913 over a campaign contribution fraud.

On Wednesday, Mr. Spitzer ended his remarks by pledging to return to public service outside the political realm, after a period of atonement with his family.

He invoked a common aphorism to make a final nod toward the enduring American belief in the possibility of redemption. ³As human beings,² he said, ³our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.²

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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