Spitzer apologized in a Manhattan news conference for “a private matter,” reportedly his having been caught on federal wiretaps as a client of an expensive prostitution ring known as the Emperor’s Club.
He did not say whether he would remain in office or, as some local press reports suggested late Monday, resign. If Spitzer does not weather the scandal, he would be replaced by Lt. Gov. David Paterson, a former state senator from Harlem.
“I have acted in a way that violated the obligations to my family and that violates my — or any — sense of right and wrong,” Spitzer said with his wife beside him, looking pained. “I apologize first, and most importantly, to my family. I apologize to the public, to whom I promised better.”
Spitzer’s announcement briefly galvanized a political world that has been singularly focused, for months, on the presidential contest. It has no immediate consequences for the 2008 race, though it seems to render more distant a prospect long floated by Spitzer’s circle: that he could become the first Jewish president.
In his hour of political need, Spitzer has few important political allies. The most powerful New Yorker in politics is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and though Spitzer supports her, she and her aides bear him no goodwill. They view his abortive plan to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants as the beginning of her fall in the polls, and his recent refusal to travel to Ohio for a campaign event did little to repair the breach.
New York’s African-American leaders — who were among those bearing up Bill Clinton during his own sex scandal — have frosty relations with the governor. The dean of New York’s congressional delegation, Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), derisively referred to Spitzer as “the smartest man in the world,” a snipe at his perceived arrogance.
Having won fame with a confrontational stance toward Wall Street, Spitzer picked big fights with the Democratic establishment in the early days of his tenure. He objected to local Democrats’ choice to replace a scandal-tarred state comptroller and lost the fight. He also was forced into a compromise with the state’s powerful health care workers’ union.
He rubbed politicians the wrong way, in particular, with his insistence that every fight be a matter of personal principle — a bruising style that takes on bitter irony given his current predicament.
“Look, I had a simple rule. I never asked if a case was popular or unpopular, never asked if it was big or small, hard or easy,” he said in one 2006 television ad. “I simply asked if it was right or wrong. In the end, it’s not a bad rule.”
And so schadenfreude, not sympathy, was the mood in New York on Monday.
“Today’s news that Eliot Spitzer was likely involved with a prostitution ring and his refusal to deny it leads to one inescapable conclusion: He has disgraced his office and the entire state of New York. He should resign his office immediately,” state Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco said in a press release.
Tedisco’s Democratic counterpart — the most powerful Democrat in the state after Spitzer — did not rise to the defense.
“The allegations against the governor are before the public. I have nothing to add at this time,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said in a statement.