Pressure mounts on NY's Gov. Spitzer to resign

Prominent US Jewish politician was allegedly caught on a wiretap soliciting prostitutes.

spitzer 224.88 (photo credit: )
spitzer 224.88
(photo credit: )
New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer is expected to resign amid a prostitution scandal, though the timing remains uncertain. Top aides to the governor said early Tuesday that the governor was expected to step down, according to The New York Times. A law enforcement official said 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 spoke to The Associated Press condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation. The scandal surrounding the man who built his political reputation by rooting out corruption stunned the state. Calls for Spitzer's resignation began immediately and intensified on 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." These sentiments have been echoed by officials throughout New York who have expressed little sympathy for a man who was known to spare no one with his moralistic scrutiny. "There is not much rachmunes [compassion], he made his bed and now is sleeping in it," said New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn. "When you're the tzadik [righteous man], and you have been responsible for bringing people to so called 'justice' in cases like this, why should you be treated with any more leniency than anyone else?" Spitzer is unlikely to continue in his post, according to Norman Adler, a well-known public affairs expert in New York. "I don't know how he could possibly stay on," said Adler. "The funny thing is, if you live by the sword, you die by sword. He prosecuted prostitution rings, looked at e-mails and phone conversations, and used a terribly swift sword to his opponents, and now it turned against him." The more "you hold yourself out to be a paragon, the riskier it is to do anything that's wrong," said Adler. "This of course is the question: How does someone who seeks limelight every day imagine he can stay in the shadows when he is engaged in sin?" The answer, Adler said, was "super arrogance," or a "defect" of the mind or character. Regardless of whether he resigns, the prostitution scandal cuts short prospects circulated by Spitzer's inner circle that he could become the first Jewish president of the United States. "The man was a star. He got almost 70 percent of the vote, which is unprecedented," said Adler. "He was a young and attractive rising star in the Democratic party, so people start looking around at potential candidates." In his bid for governor in 2006, Spitzer enjoyed strong Jewish support, especially from the Orthodox. "He did a lot of outreach with the Jewish community, particularly the Orthodox community," said Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union's Institute for Public Affairs. "They say that half the game is showing up, and he showed up at many community events." As New York attorney-general from 1999-2006, the Orthodox Union worked with Spitzer on a number of "key issues," said Diament, including on a state law on religious accommodation in the workplace; the OU is currently trying to get a federal version enacted in Congress. Spitzer also worked with the OU in its efforts to get education tax cuts for religious schools, though the initiative was not included in his recent state budget. Spitzer retreated from public view on Monday afternoon, after he appeared glassy-eyed with his shell-shocked wife, Silda, at his side and 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." Spitzer allegedly paid for a call girl to take a train from New York to Washington - a move that opened the transaction up to federal prosecution because she crossed state lines. The governor has not been charged, and prosecutors would not comment on the case. A Spitzer spokesman said the governor had 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. US Attorney-General Michael Mukasey was made aware of the investigation because it involved a high-ranking political official. The inquiry found that Spitzer was a repeat customer with the Emperors Club VIP, a high-end 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 by train from Manhattan on February 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," Client 9 told Kristen's boss, when asked how he would pay, a federal affidavit said. The client paid $4,300 to Kristen, touted by the escort service as a "petite, pretty brunette," according to court papers. The tryst took place in the Mayflower hotel, where Spitzer rented a second room for the woman under another name, the law enforcement official who spoke to The AP on Tuesday said. Spitzer had to sneak past his state police detail to get to her room, the official said. Spitzer, a 48-year-old father of three teenage girls, was elected with the largest margin of victory in a gubernatorial race in New York history, and took office on January 1, 2007, vowing to stamp out corruption in New York government in the same way that he took on Wall Street executives as 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. The square-jawed graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School was even mentioned as a potential presidential candidate. Bit Spitzer's term as governor has been fraught with problems, including an unpopular plan to grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and a plot by his aides to smear his main Republican nemesis. Attention has turned to the state's lieutenant governor, David Paterson, who automatically becomes governor if Spitzer quits. There was no immediate comment from Paterson, who would become New York's first black governor. There was no word on Spitzer's plans, but Assembly Republican leader James Tedisco said Tuesday he received a call from Paterson on Monday. Tedisco said Paterson raised such a scenario by asking if Tedisco, who has been at odds with Spitzer, would be willing to start fresh with him. "He called me to ask if we would give him the benefit of the doubt, and go forward," Tedisco said. "I told him we would." Hikind said he had worked closely with Paterson for the last two decades, since the latter began as a New York State senator in 1986. "He was one of the people I am closest to all these years," said Hikind. "He is a very special guy." AP contributed to this report.