New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D), once known as the "sheriff of Wall Street," spent much of his career prosecuting corrupt corporate executives. Now, reports that the first-term governor was a customer of a prostitution ring are prompting calls for his resignation.
In a public apology Monday afternoon, the governor sought to portray his actions, which he did not specify, as "a private matter." In a terse statement, Mr. Sptizer apologized to his family and to the public, "whom I promised better."
It's not known whether Spitzer will be charged in the federal investigation, but even if not, his long history of morally righteous statements is prompting speculation that he will be forced to step down. The reason, say political analysts, is that the public, which forgives many political sins, abhors hypocrisy.
"He spent his career being the scourge of inappropriate behavior, both public and private. Now he's lost all moral authority," says Douglas Muzzio, a political analyst at Baruch College in New York City. "His ability to govern has been shattered."
Spitzer's troubles became public Monday, after The New York Times reported on its website that he told high-level aides he'd been involved in a prostitution ring. He appeared in mid-afternoon to read a 10-sentence statement, with his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, by his side.
"I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family. I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself," he said. "I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family."
Within minutes, Republican leaders in the state were calling on him to resign.
"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," Assembly minority leader James Tedisco told reporters, according to Reuters. "He should resign his office immediately."
Politicians of both parties have survived sex scandals in the past. US Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts was implicated in a male prostitution ring in 1990, but his constituents forgave him long ago. Then, of course, there was President Bill Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal, which came to light just as his second term started. He was ultimately impeached by the House, but the former president remains a star of the Democratic Party, even if a bit tarnished.
"Ten, 20 years ago, Spitzer would have been forced to resign," says Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "But standards are so low now, it's entirely possible he could survive."
But Spitzer's political persona may make that more difficult, say Professor Sabato and other political analysts.
"I believe that under normal circumstances New Yorkers would be forgiving," says pollster John Zogby of Zogby International in Utica, N.Y. "However, in this instance, you have a very zealous [former] prosecutor who suffered very little over other people's mistakes."
While New York attorney general, Spitzer prosecuted at least two prostitution rings as head of the state's organized crime task force, according to The New York Times.
Even before this latest allegation, Spitzer was facing serious political problems, analysts say. He became involved in a feud with the state's Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno. Spitzer's staff leaked information about Senator Bruno's use of state aircraft and state troopers. Bruno fought back by saying he was on state business. The dispute ultimately forced some of the governor's top aides to resign. It became known in Albany as "trooper-gate."
"Everyone likes Joe Bruno; you are not going to throw Joe Bruno out," says Mr. Zogby. "It was the beginning of the downfall of Spitzer."
After only one year in office, the governor's approval ratings have dropped. Most polls show him in the upper 30s, says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute of Public Opinion. "He does not have a reservoir of public opinion to fall back on right now," says Mr. Miringoff.
Last year, Spitzer caused a stir when he announced plans to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. "It created sufficient uproar that he pulled the idea," says Miringoff.
Spitzer also lost political capital in Albany when he decided to try to replace the state controller, Alan Hevesi, who had resigned, with his own candidate. The actual power resided with the state Assembly, which fought the governor over the choice. Spitzer lost.
Miringoff talked to Spitzer Saturday at the annual Gridiron dinner in Washington, which brings together journalists and politicians. "He seemed very intense about everything," recalls Miringoff. "There was nothing specific, but he just thought he was going to be much stronger by the fall."
However, last week the governor introduced his budget for the coming fiscal year. It involved deep cuts for local governments, school systems, and healthcare facilities. "It was draconian," says Mr. Zogby. "It is what happens when your state is in a recession."
The prostitution ring in question, identified in court papers as the Emperors Club VIP, arranged connections between wealthy men and more than 50 prostitutes in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Miami, London, and Paris, federal prosecutors said. Four people allegedly connected to the high-end ring were arrested last week.
• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.