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THE SPITZER SEX SCANDAL

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Albany colleagues support Paterson

Borough has little sympathy for guv

AG Spitzer accused Bellerose man of running international sex tours

Engulfed by a prostitution scandal, Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned from office Wednesday in a stunning fall from grace that ended a tumultuous 14 months in office and reverberated through political circles in Queens.

Arriving in an entourage of black SUVs at his Manhattan office, Spitzer delivered a 94-second statement with his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, by his side.

Spitzer said he would first focus on repairing his relationship with his family as he departs public life.

"Over the past few days, I've begun to atone for my private failings," a subdued Spitzer said. "I am deeply sorry that I didn't live up to what was expected of me."

He said his resignation would take effect Monday since that date was requested by Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who will replace him.

"I look at my times as governor to what might have been," said Spitzer, who had embarked on an ambitious mission to wrest control of the state Senate from the Republicans by targeting two Queens senators as part of his overall strategy.

Spitzer ended his brief statement by thanking "the public once again for the privilege of serving" before walking out without taking questions from the press.

He was connected to an international prostitution ring after federal investigators allegedly caught him on wiretaps arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington hotel the night before Valentine's Day.

The resignation catapulted Paterson into the state's top post, making him New York's first black governor and the third in the country since Reconstruction.

Paterson expressed his concern for the governor and his family and said the government would continue to function.

"Like all New Yorkers, I am saddened by what we have learned over the past several days. My heart goes out to (Spitzer) and to his family at this difficult and painful time," he said. "It is now time to get back to work as the people of this state expect from us."

State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Saratoga Springs), who has feuded with the governor, told a news conference shortly before Spitzer made the announcement that he took no satisfaction in the governor's demise.

"There is no pleasure in what is going on in this state, in anybody's life, because this is serious," Bruno said.

The scandal sent waves of disbelief and disappointment ricocheting through the borough's political establishment.

State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) did not directly address Spitzer's resignation in a statement shortly after the announcement but said he would work with Paterson.

"The people's business is all that matters, and I am committed to working with our new governor to get the people's business done," Lancman said. "I have known Gov. Paterson for many years and I am completely confident in his ability to move our state forward and accomplish great things for all New Yorkers."

In a phone interview Monday, state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale) called the Spitzer prostitution ring scandal "cataclysmic news."

"I think it's probably the most momentous thing that's happened in Queens politics in the past 50 years. ...The capital is in a state of shock," he said.

State Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck) did not explicitly call for Spitzer to resign in an interview Tuesday but said "it's going to be difficult for him to continue governing.

"There is a bizarre, surreal haze over [Albany] at the moment," he said.

That feeling dominated the day after the revelations became known as Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco (R-Schenectady) warned Tuesday that Spitzer had 48 hours to resign or the Legislature would start impeachment proceedings.

State Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) said Tuesday the governor may have been delaying the announcement in hopes of using his status to lessen possible penalties if he faces criminal charges.

"The governorship is a powerful negotiating tool," Peralta said. "I'm pretty sure his advisors are telling him not to step down yet."

Spitzer did not receive any sympathy on the streets of Bayside.

"It serves him right," said James McDermott, a 49-year-old retired firefighter. "He should resign."

Maltese saw the scandal as a detriment to the state Democratic Party's hope of capturing the state Senate, where Republicans have a one-seat majority.

"This is a severe blow to the Democratic minority because up until now they had hoped to flip over one of the Republican senators," Maltese said. "I believe, in November, partly because Spitzer has not left a good legacy, the senate Republicans will hold a majority and take a few seats."

Spitzer had singled out both Maltese and state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) as prime targets of his aggressive campaign to gain Democratic control of the Senate.

Peralta agreed that Democrats would be stifled in picking up Senate seats.

"Eliot has become a poster child for the Republicans," he said. "Now I think [a Democratic majority in the Senate] will be stalled a few years."

Federal investigators were led to the ring following an initial probe into suspicious transfers between Spitzer's bank accounts, believing the activity may have been related to bribery or an attempt to skirt campaign finance laws, according to The New York Times, which broke the story on its Web site Monday afternoon.

The money was eventually linked to front companies allegedly set up by Emperors Club V.I.P., a New Jersey-based call-girl operation that prosecutors claimed booked prostitutes in New York, Washington, Miami, Paris and London.

The service ranks its women on a scale from three to seven diamonds with rates ranging from $1,000 to $5,500 an hour.

Spitzer is not directly identified as a customer of the Emperors Club, but law enforcement sources in published reports said a person identified as "Client-9" in a federal affidavit is the governor.

Client-9 was caught on court-ordered wiretaps of arranging a meeting with a prostitute known as "Kristen," described as "American, very pretty brunette, 5-foot-5 105 pounds," according to the federal affidavit prepared by an FBI agent investigating the ring.

Client-9 met with Kristen the night before Valentine's Day in Room 871 of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, where he said the door would be kept ajar for the prostitute to walk in. He gave Kristen $4,300 after the session - a portion of which was to be credited to his account for future appointments, according to the affidavit.

Some of those funds were used on Kristen's train fare from Penn Station to Washington, according to the federal complaint.

Amid speculation that Spitzer was trying to work out a deal with prosecutor to avoid possible criminal charges, Michael Garcia, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, issued a terse statement that "there is no agreement between this office and Gov. Eliot Spitzer relating to his resignation or any other matter."

In a brief statement Monday from his Manhattan office, where he was accompanied by his ashen-faced wife, Spitzer apologized to his family and the public but did not say what he was sorry for.

"I have acted in a way that violates my obligation to my family, that violates my - or any - sense of right and wrong" the governor said.

In an August 2006 interview with the TimesLedger, Spitzer said it was up to "good people" to improve Albany.

"The quality of the people is ultimately what will determine success or failure in the long term," he said.

He also defended his prosecution of Richard Grasso, the former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, which contributed to Spitzer's being dubbed "The Sheriff of Wall Street" while he was attorney general.

"This is a slam dunk case that had I not brought, it would have been an abdication of responsibility," said Spitzer, who sued Grasso over his compensation package of nearly $200 million from the Big Board.

Spitzer had not been charged in connection with the prostitution case, which led to the arrest last Thursday of four individuals believed to be the ring leader, an organizer and two booking agents.

The conversation between Client-9 and an alleged booker for the prostitution operation detailed how the customer haggled over the method of payment - he insisted on sending cash through the mail instead of wire transfers - and pricing for the hooker.

The affidavit suggested Spitzer used the service before when an Emperors Club manager called him to ask if he sent the cash to a shell company.

"Yup, same as in the past, no question about it," Client-9 said.

The sex scandal surrounding the governor was the latest development in a tumultuous 14 months in office.

State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo found that Spitzer's office attempted to discredit his rival, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Saratoga Springs), by siccing the State Police on him, although Cuomo's office said there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing in that case.

Spitzer also infamously lambasted Tedisco during a January 2007 phone call, where he told Tedisco "I'm a f------ steamroller and I'll roll over you and anybody else."

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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