Caught up in a high-priced prostitution ring, Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer resigned in disgrace Wednesday, but a top federal prosecutor cautioned that his departure was not part of any deal to keep the governor from facing possible criminal charges that could carry a prison term.
While the governor said the timing of his resignation -- not until Monday at noon -- was at the request of Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who wanted the extra days to work on transition efforts, government sources say Spitzer believes he can still get an agreement with the U.S. attorney's office to avoid charges that could range from money laundering and wire fraud to engaging a prostitute's services across state lines.
But Michael J. Garcia, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, sent clear signals that no deal has been made. "There is no agreement between this office and Gov. Eliot Spitzer relating to his resignation or any other matter," he said.
A somber-looking Spitzer an nounced his resignation shortly before noon.
"I cannot allow my private failings to disrupt the people's work," said Spitzer, as his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, stood at his side for the second time this week. Spitzer, followed in an O.J. Simpson-style chase by television helicopters as his SUV took him to his midtown Manhattan offices, added in his two-minute speech, "I look at my times as governor with a sense of what might have been."
A few hours later, the New York Times posted on its Web site an interview with Ashley Alexandra Dupre, identified as the woman Spitzer met in a Washington hotel room last month. Dupre, 22, was tracked down after she appeared this week in federal court to testify against four individuals charged with running the prostitution ring used by Spitzer -- known as Emperors Club VIP.
In a 90-minute period Wednesday night, Dupre's My-Space page attracted 200,000 visits. "What destroys me strengthens me," she says in a quote on her site. She talks of leaving a broken home at 17 and her desire for a career in music. "She's not going to be back for many months," said an angry-sounding unidentified man answering the phone at her Manhattan apartment Wednesday.
In the course of three short days, Spitzer has gone from chief executive of the nation's third-largest state to an asterisk in New York history. After holding himself out as a champion of ethics and a different sort of politician, Spitzer, in the end, joins a long line of politicians over history brought down by sexual scandal -- in his case as a patron who dropped at least $80,000 on prostitutes in recent years.
"The remorse I feel will always be with me. I am deeply sorry I did not live up to what was expected of me," Spitzer said.
Paterson, who later today will make his first public appearance since the scandal broke Monday, said in a brief statement that he was saddened by Spitzer's troubles. "It is now time for Albany to get back to work as the people of this state expect from us," he said.
Paterson, who is legally blind, becomes the state's first black governor.
The timing of Spitzer's departure is potentially troublesome. A new state budget is due March 31, and the state is facing a $4.6 billion budget deficit.
In a sign of a changing tone in Albany, a stream of public words of affection was being sent Paterson's way Wednesday. From environmental and women's groups to the Catholic Church, every special interest rushed out statements praising Paterson.
State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who has had only a few conversations with Spitzer since last summer after a series of run-ins with the governor, promised "an orderly transition" with Paterson, with whom he said he shares an "excellent relationship."
"There is no pleasure in what is going on," Bruno said when asked if he thought it ironic that Spitzer, whose administration sought to smear him last year by having the State Police monitor his travels, saw his political career end first. Bruno, however, who as majority leader will now be first in the line of succession once Paterson takes office, is still being investigated by the FBI for his outside business dealings.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who talked of a "difficult conversation" he had with Spitzer Tuesday night, on Wednesday praised Paterson, saying his intelligence, charisma and government experience "make him an ideal leader to guide us through the difficult days ahead."
The next five days are uncharted in state history. Spitzer is still governor, but his aides said he will take no major actions -- barring, presumably, any state emergencies.
At least four top Spitzer staffers offered their resignations Wednesday, though they are staying on during a transition period. And Paterson aides were letting it be known that everything from elements of Spitzer's proposed budget to pending nominations are not sacrosanct.
Former Gov. George E. Pataki said Paterson showed him over the years an ability to cross party lines and work with other state leaders in nonconfrontational ways -- something Spitzer often had a difficult time achieving. He said Paterson will be able to "restore confidence" in Albany.
John Faso, Spitzer's 2006 opponent, meanwhile, said he raised concerns that year about what he said were Spitzer's "one set of rules for himself and another for everyone else."
The past 15 months in Albany have been nothing more than remarkable. Consider this: Come Monday, the only statewide official who will still be in the job he was elected to by voters in 2006 is Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Former State Comptroller Alan Hevesi was brought down by scandal in early 2007, and now Spitzer is leaving, and Paterson is moving up.
Paterson takes office with a decidedly more liberal background -- or at least voting record -- than Spitzer, who never served in the Legislature. His record includes everything from promoting embryonic stem cell research to introducing a bill to give noncitizens the right to vote.
For Spitzer's staffers, Wednesday was the culmination of 72 hours of crying, anger and deflated expectations. For some who might not stay and want to go into lobbying, they face stiffer revolving door bans enacted by Spitzer. Those remaining talked of uncertainty.
Aides close to Spitzer described the scene behind closed doors with the governor and his wife Wednesday like a funeral for someone who died unexpectedly.
Shortly before nightfall, the governor's one-sentence resignation letter arrived in the offices of Silver and Bruno.
Spitzer became the first New York governor to resign under a cloud since 1913 -- when William Sulzer, who took office as a crusader, was impeached following a fraud case.
Now Spitzer, whose troubles were cheered Monday afternoon on the floor the New York Stock Exchange, faces an uncertain legal and personal future. Though a millionaire, he risks disbarment from the legal profession that had taken him far in his career.e-mail: email@example.com