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Can Spitzer Survive Prostitution Scandal?

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

To understand how far Eliot Spitzer is falling, it helps to understand how high he climbed. As the attorney general of New York, Spitzer wielded national power. His jurisdiction included Wall Street. He sometimes seemed to investigate financial scandals more aggressively than the federal government, and he went on to win a huge victory in his run for New York governor.

That made him one of the Democratic Party's biggest stars. This is the man who appeared before reporters yesterday apologizing to his family and the public. NPR's Margot Adler reports on the prostitution ring that claimed the governor as a customer.

MARGOT ADLER: Law enforcement officials told the New York Times that Governor Spitzer is identified in court papers as Client 9. The wiretap was part of an investigation of the Emperor's Club VIP. The investigation that revealed this meeting with a prostitute started as a routine tax investigation last year. Investigators were looking at some unusual movements of cash involving the governor. The Times said the money ended up in shell companies, and the first assumption was that this was a case of political corruption or bribery. No one suspected prostitution. The court affidavit shows Client 9 paying to bring a prostitute called Kristen from New York to Washington for a meeting at a hotel in February and giving this woman $4,300. With his wife standing soberly by his side, Governor Spitzer apologized to New Yorkers.

Governor ELIOT SPITZER (Democrat, New York): I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and that violates my or any sense of right and wrong. I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public, whom I promised better. I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.

ADLER: Governor Spitzer did not answer questions and reporters shouted out, are you resigning, as he left. Eliot Spitzer was incredibly popular as New York's attorney general. He took on Wall Street, organized crime and even busted several prostitution rings.

In 2002, Time Magazine called him the Crusader. Tabloids called him Eliot Ness. And he won the governorship in a landslide. Since taking office, the governor has had problems. An unpopular attempt to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants backfired. And his top aides attempted to embarrass his chief political rival, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

In Albany, the Republican minority leader in the state assembly, Jim Tedisco said bluntly…

Assemblyman JIM TEDISCO (Republican, New York State Assembly; Minority Leader): I think the implication is if indeed he was involved in this, I don't think there's any way he could continue to be the executive here or be the governor. Because he had such a high level of propensity to talk about ethics and the important of ethics and honesty and integrity, and that's what we liked about the governor. That's why he got that tremendous mandate.

ADLER: Other reaction to the governor's situation went across the board. Former Governor Mario Cuomo, a Democrat, called it an excruciating personal tragedy for his family and the rest of our society to whom he has meant so much.

Most New Yorkers were utterly shocked. Brooke Masters is the author of a biography of Spitzer called "Spoiling for a Fight: The Rise of Eliot Spitzer." She called many of the people she talked to for her book and said most of them were stunned.

Ms. BROOKE MASTERS (Author, "Spoiling for a Fight: The Rise of Eliot Spitzer"): This was a guy, and is a guy, who used to blush or at least sort of be uncomfortable when people told dirty jokes. Who - and you should hear him talk about his daughters and his wife with real pride in his voice. You know, there are politicians you meet and you know they've got issues. This is not one of them.

ADLER: What now remains to be seen is if Governor Spitzer can survive politically. At his brief news conference he had this statement…

Gov. SPITZER: We sought to bring real change to New York, and that will continue.

ADLER: Many noted that it was in the past tense.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Margot Adler died on July 28, 2014 at her home in New York City. She was 68 and had been battling cancer. Listen to NPR Correspondent David Folkenflik's retrospective on her life and career