Governor Eliot Spitzer was a client of a high-priced prostitution ring, law enforcement officials say, and could resign the governorship as early as Tuesday.
The bombshell news broke at around 1:45 p.m. Monday on the website of the New York Times, which reported that Spitzer had informed senior officials that he was involved in a Manhattan-based high-end prostitution ring that was busted by investigators last week.
Spitzer delivered a somber but brief public apology at his office Monday afternoon, saying only that he "failed" to live up to the standards of his office.
The 48-year-old father of three teenage daughters made no direct mention of the prostitution allegations, nor did he give any details about what he was apologizing for. Flanked by his wife, Silda, who appeared visibly drained, and several aides – one of whom began to weep – the governor apologized for the public scandal, but referred to it only as a "personal matter."
"I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and that violates my — or any — sense of right and wrong," Spitzer said in the 90-second address. "I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public, to whom I have promised better. I do not believe that politics in the long run is about individuals. It is about ideas, the public good and doing what is best for the State of New York. I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standards I expected of myself. I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family."
The governor did not take questions from reporters, but did say he would "report back" soon, suggesting a separate announcement about his political future. According to sources, no one in Spitzer's administration believes he will stay on, not even his close allies.
The governor was allegedly caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet with a prostitute from a call-girl business known as the Emperors Club VIP in a Washington hotel room, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press. Text messages sent from the governor are reportedly in the possession of the United States attorney's office.
The governor has not been charged, but an affidavit based on the wiretap says that a man identified as "Client 9" — Spitzer, according to anonymous sources in published reports — arranged and paid for a rendezvous with a "petite, pretty brunette, 5-feet-5 inches, and 105 pounds," named "Kristen."
Last week, federal prosecutors in Manhattan filed conspiracy charges against four people who ran Emperors Club VIP, which charged wealthy clients in Europe and the United States thousands of dollars for call girls. The prostitutes were paid up to $5,500 an hour, or more than $30,000 a night. There are reports that Spitzer hired a prostitute from Emperors Club as recently as last month, possibly on February 13th, the day before Valentine's Day.
In a statement shortly after Spitzer's address, Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, a Republican, called for the governor's immediate resignation, calling him "unfit to lead the state and unfit to hold public office."
"He has disgraced his office and the entire state of New York. He should resign his office immediately," the statement read in part. "Public service is a public trust — Eliot Spitzer violated this trust and has forsaken his oath of office."
ABC News reports that the investigation into the Emperors Club began when a possible money-laundering scheme was reported to the IRS. Those transactions were linked to Spitzer, and authorities originally thought they might have a public corruption case.
Authorities started electronic surveillance of the governor's phone, text, and e-mail correspondence, which eventually led investigators to the prostitution ring that was allegedly laundering money to cover its tracks.
Ironically, as attorney general, Spitzer was himself responsible for busting several prostitution rings.
The scandal comes just 16 months into Spitzer’s tenure as governor during which he vowed to clean up state government, rooting out corruption in Albany the way he rooted out financial corruption on Wall Street. But Spitzer’s first year in office was marred by scandal, turmoil and dead-end proposals.
His public feud with Republican State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno peaked when Spitzer was accused of spying on the leader in an attempt to tarnish his reputation. Over the course of just 12 months, the governor’s approval rating went from a sky-high 61 percent to a dismal 36 percent at the end of his first year in office.
With a contentious state budget due in three weeks, analysts say the governor's next move will be critical. Before the allegations were made public, Spitzer, a Democrat, was already at odds with the Republican-led Senate, and even on shaky ground with some Democrats, many of whom have remained uncharacteristically silent in the aftermath of the governor's statement Monday afternoon. Speaker Sheldon Silver and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer both released brief statements indicating, essentially, that they have no comment.
When asked what she thought about the news, Senator Hillary Clinton kept her response brief.
"I do not have any comment on that. I am sending my best wishes and thoughts to the governor and to his family," she said.
In a brief statement following Spitzer's address, Bruno said he felt bad for Spitzer's family, adding:
"The important thing for the people of New York State is that people in office do the right thing, because there are so many challenges out there and it's important we govern and move forward to getting a proper budget in place for the people of this state. That's how decisions should be made by people in public office."
When asked if Spitzer should resign, Bruno had no comment. Others weren’t as restrained.
"If it is indeed the case and he was indeed involved with a client in this prostitution ring, for a governor that had a tremendous mandate and part of that mandate was to change the way ethics worked here at the state capitol and in government, this is a true breach of that promise that he presented to the public when he ran and during his little over a year here," said Tedisco.
In the event Spitzer does resign, Lieutenant Governor David Paterson would become governor through the end of Spitzer's term in 2010. The lieutenant governor position would remain vacant, although Bruno would perform some of the position's duties.
If Paterson were to leave New York State on business, then Bruno would become the acting governor. He would also take the office if Paterson refused to serve. And if both men were out of state, then Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver would become the acting governor.
The last time a New York governor resigned from office was in 1973, when Nelson Rockefeller stepped down to spend more time working on his Commission on Critical Choices for Americans after 15 years as governor. His Lieutenant Governor Malcolm Wilson finished out his term and Rockefeller was appointed vice president under Gerald Ford the next year, following the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
The floor of the New York Stock Exchange reportedly erupted in cheers when news broke of Spitzer’s latest scandal. The governor gained the animosity of many working in the financial industry when, as governor general, he made a name for himself by taking down corporate giants caught up in accounting scandals, such as Enron, Tyco, and ImClone. Some New Yorkers in the Financial District Monday said they were celebrating the news of the governor’s demise.
“The people on Wall Street are not unhappy about Eliot Spitzer’s situation. I think, in the end, he’s led a double standard,” said one New Yorker. “He lied to a lot of people about his ethics and he will be gone by Tuesday night as governor. There’s no salvation for him.”
“He’s making moral allegations against other corporate entities," added another. "I think that perhaps there is something ironic about that and perhaps he should kind of look to clean up his own backyard before pointing the finger at other people."
“I think he should resign and if he doesn’t resign I think he should be forced out of office, absolutely,” added a third.
“New Yorkers, we’ve had things happen that have been worse in this administration and we just have to support him and hope that he finds his way to a better life,” added a fourth, more sympathetic New Yorker.
Spitzer and his wife have three teenaged daughters. He graduated from Princeton University in 1981, and from Harvard Law School in 1984. He practiced law privately before serving as Assistant District Attorney from 1986 to 1992.
He again went into private practice from 1992 to 1998, but returned to public office as Attorney General in 1999, where he spent an eight-year term, before being elected as governor in 2006, with an historic 69 percent of the vote.