N.Y.'s Vacco Throws in Towel

State election officials on Tuesday officially certified Democrat Eliot Spitzer the winner of the attorney general's race, a day after GOP incumbent Dennis Vacco conceded defeat in the Nov. 3 race.

Vacco said Monday it was time to end the six-week battle that raised claims of widespread election fraud and provide a smooth transition. But he made no apologies for his "well-intentioned" challenge to the election results.

The announcement came as a state judge threw out the incumbent's lawsuit challenging the results.

"While the effort that we conducted over the last six weeks was well-intentioned," Vacco told a Buffalo news conference, "after reviewing the facts and information that we have compiled to date, I believe it fell upon me as a leader in this state to put an end to it."

The state Board of Elections met in Rockland County on Tuesday morning to certify all Nov. 3 election results. Returns showed Spitzer, a millionaire attorney and former Manhattan prosecutor, with a 25,186 vote lead over Vacco out of the more than 4 million votes cast.

While conceding, Vacco said he was right to focus on alleged election fraud.

"I have a lot to say about that, but now is not the time or place," he said, adding that friends and colleagues "know that I would not have pursued something frivolously."

State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Keegan's ruling cleared the way for the state Board of Elections to certify the election results today.

The attorney general's election had been the closest statewide race since the 1954 governor's race when Democrat Averell Harriman defeated Republican Irving Ives.

Vacco called Spitzer, who had already declared himself the victor, to offer congratulations.

"Right now, it tastes awfully sweet," the attorney general-elect said Monday.

Vacco's battle to hold onto his job had led to widespread editorial criticism of him across the state and even some of his fellow Republicans had urged him to give up the fight.

Vacco, a former federal prosecutor from Buffalo, was swept into office in 1994 along with Gov. George Pataki as voters turned against then-Gov. Mario Cuomo and Democrats in general.

In court on Monday, Vacco attorney Thomas Spargo conceded he did not have enough proof to overcome Spitzer's lead. The judge agreed.

"The time has come to bring finality to this election," Keegan said.

In addition to raising and then dropping challenges to absentee ballots, Vacco had claimed that votes were cast in the names of dead people, by non-residents and illegal aliens and that some voters had cast multiple ballots.

While saying he would not appeal the judge's order, Spargo left open the possibility that GOP forces could come back into court if they ever did come up with enough evidence to back up their claims.

GOP Chairman Powers said he was prepared to turn over the evidece Republican lawyers had gathered "to whatever government agency wants it" in the hope that the investigation into voter fraud would continue.

Spitzer is expected to take charge of the more than 500 lawyers in the attorney general's office on Jan. 1.