March 13, 2008 in Nation/World

Spitzer transfers power to Paterson

Erika Hayasaki Los Angeles Times
The Spokesman-Review photo

(Full-size photo)

NEW YORK – When Eliot Spitzer, ensnared in a pricey prostitution scandal, walked away from the governorship of New York on Wednesday, he left it to his successor to sort out another mess: a legislature facing a $4.4 billion deficit.

Spitzer resigned after a federal wiretap investigation revealed he was a client of a high-priced prostitution ring – by some accounts he may have spent $80,000 during numerous liaisons with employees of the Emperors Club VIP call girl service. The first-term Democratic governor, his wife by his side, stepped down from his post in a somber news conference Wednesday morning. He offered his apologies and announced that, at the request of Lt. Gov. David Paterson, the transfer of power would take place on Monday.

Paterson, 53, a Democrat from Harlem who was first elected to the state Senate in 1985, will inherit a laundry list of challenges, including passing a state budget, which must be enacted by March 31.

“He’s entering a situation where the state has almost a $5 billion deficit and an economy that is underperforming,” said Joseph Mercurio, a longtime political consultant in Manhattan. “He’s got to figure out how to keep the state afloat in those conditions.”

Paterson, who has been nearly sightless since birth, will become New York’s 55th governor and the first black to serve in the position.

In a statement following Spitzer’s resignation, Paterson said: “Like all New Yorkers, I am saddened by what we have learned over the past several days.”

Spitzer announced his resignation before noon at his midtown Manhattan office after staying huddled with family and advisers at his home for more than 36 hours.

“In the past few days, I have begun to atone for my private failings with my wife, Silda, my children and my entire family,” he said. “The remorse I feel will always be with me. Words cannot describe how grateful I am for the love and compassion they have shown me.”

His wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, stood with her hands clasped behind her back, looking weary and occasionally locking her eyes on his face during the two-minute speech, in which Spitzer apologized to his family and the people who believed in him.

“There is much more to be done and I cannot allow my private failings to disrupt the people’s work,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer, 48, a father of three teenage daughters, ended by offering his prayers for Paterson, whom he called a friend.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Michael J. Garcia responded to speculation that Spitzer might have been trying to use his resignation as a bargaining chip to cut a deal with federal prosecutors. Garcia said in a statement: “There is no agreement between this office and Governor Eliot Spitzer, relating to his resignation or any other matter.”

Paterson, unlike Spitzer, is known for a calm and collegial personal style. Spitzer’s confrontational and often abrasive personality did not lend itself to political successes in Albany. Lawmakers and analysts expect working across party lines might come easier to Paterson, who forged relationships with Republicans during his 20 years in the state Senate.

“Not only are there partisan fissures that slow things down in Albany, but there are institutional fissures as well,” said Bruce Berg, chair of the political science department at Fordham University.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, who clashed repeatedly with Spitzer in the past, said there was a “sigh of relief” in Albany on Wednesday. The scandal had consumed legislators and Bruno said they must now work together on the business of New York State and focus on fiscal challenges.

Spitzer’s resignation followed revelations Monday that he spent thousands of dollars for a prostitute known as Kristen on the night before Valentine’s Day at a hotel in Washington D.C.

The Emperors Club, for whom she worked, catered to wealthy men seeking beautiful young female consorts in New York, Washington, Miami, London, Paris and Los Angeles. A federal wiretap captured a man identified as “Client 9” – a regular customer of the Emperors Club – arranging a date last month with a petite brunette, an FBI affidavit said. Spitzer was Client 9, federal law enforcement officials have said.

As for Spitzer’s future, it is unclear whether he will face charges stemming from the scandal. In his remarks, he acknowledged his political career has been derailed.

“As I leave public life, I will first do what I need to do to help and heal myself and my family. Then I will try once again, outside of politics, to serve the common good.”

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