Michael Amon

Wife, aide urged Spitzer to stay

Posted in Newsday by michaelamon on November 25, 2009


BY MICHAEL AMON
March 16, 2008 P. A8
Cloistered in his Manhattan apartment last Sunday, Gov. Eliot Spitzer listened as his wife, Silda Wall, and his closest adviser, Lloyd Constantine, urged him not to resign.

Allegations that he used high-priced call girls would be public in less than 24 hours, but Wall and Constantine argued that Spitzer could weather a sex scandal, just as other politicians with popular platforms had, according to several knowledgeable sources.

Look at President Bill Clinton, they said, whose poll numbers remained high despite impeachment efforts. And remember, they told Spitzer, that he was elected with nearly 70 percent of the vote in 2006.

Spitzer initially heeded their advice, but by Tuesday evening – after several public relations firms told him there was no way to repair his image – he had decided he had no choice but to resign, said advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity. But Wall and Constantine continued pleading with him to remain in office, advisers said, right up until Wednesday morning when he delivered his resignation on national television.

“I am deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me,” he said.

Spitzer officially hands over power to Lt. Gov. David Paterson tomorrow at 1 p.m., but friends and aides say he has not been in charge since Wednesday, rarely leaving his apartment and forgoing his daily jogs in Central Park.

The seeds of his spectacular fall were sown last year, when a routine report filed by his bank sparked a federal investigation into unusual transfers from his account to “shell” companies for a prostitution ring. His fate was sealed after wiretaps caught him arranging a Feb. 13 tryst in Washington.

It was an especially ignominious end for Democrat Spitzer, the square-jawed former prosecutor who swept into the Executive Mansion 14 months ago vowing to clean house. The reforms he promised had hit a series of setbacks – a nationwide furor over a proposal to give driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants; and a probe into using the State Police to spy on his rival, State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican.

Yet many believed Spitzer was making a comeback. The Republican Senate majority had shrunk to a single seat with a win last month by Spitzer’s hand-picked candidate. He had raised $3 million in the second half of 2007.

Though he could not know it, any momentum Spitzer had was effectively stopped on Thursday, March 6, when the leaders of the Emperors Club VIP, an alleged international prostitution ring, were arraigned in federal court in Manhattan.

Up to $5,500 an hour

According to federal prosecutors, the Emperors Club VIP catered to those willing – and able – to pay up to $5,500 to spend an hour with the attractive women who could be chosen from an online gallery.

With its elements of sex, wealth and intrigue, news of the arrests spread as far as Australia, where a story headlined “Elite Escorts Busted” ran in the March 9 Sunday Mail. But few knew the true focus of that investigation: an alleged sometime john known in court papers as “Client 9” who was actually the governor of New York.

The FBI and the IRS had begun investigating Spitzer in October, law enforcement sources said, when two banks reported unusual activity. First, North Fork reported that Spitzer had tried to break down large wire transfers into amounts smaller than $10,000, seemingly to get around federal reporting rules, sources said. Spitzer then unsuccessfully asked North Fork to remove his name from the wire transfers.

In another case, HSBC reported that a group of companies that had established accounts were apparently shells – under the names QAT Consulting Group, QAT International, and Protech Consultants – that might be involved in some sort of illegal activities.

The unusual bank activity might have gone unnoticed – hundreds of thousands of such reports are filed a year – but the HSBC and North Fork reports ended up with the same analyst at an IRS office in Hauppauge, sources said.

By January, a judge had authorized tapping Emperors Club phones. On Feb. 13, when Spitzer was in Washington to testify before the House Financial Services Committee, he was overheard making elaborate arrangements for a successful rendezvous with a prostitute with the pseudonym “Kristen.” Sources said he’d had seven or eight dates with Emperors Club call girls in the last year.

On Friday, March 7, federal investigators told Spitzer that he’d been overheard on wiretaps. But over the next two days, he appeared to behave as if nothing was amiss, conducting conference calls and attending public events, according to aides and his public schedule.

On Saturday, apparently unaware that a New York Times reporter was outside his Fifth Avenue apartment, he went for a jog. He and his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, took their dogs for a walk, the Times reported.

Later, Spitzer traveled on Amtrak to Washington, D.C., for the annual Gridiron Club dinner, where he swapped jokes with media executives like News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch and Donald Graham of The Washington Post, said Stanford Lipsey, the Buffalo News publisher who invited the governor. Spitzer shook countless hands and watched President George W. Bush perform a self-mocking song-and-dance number.

“He had a terrific time,” Lipsey recalled.

He seemed ‘very keyed up”

Pollster Lee Miringoff said he chatted with Spitzer for about 10 minutes about the governor’s low approval ratings. Spitzer assured him that by November, his numbers would rise, Miringoff said. But Spitzer seemed subtly off.

“He was very keyed up, but in a manicky kind of way,” Miringoff said. “I asked a question, and before I got two words in, I was getting an answer. … He really was very much dominating the conversation.”

Spitzer left the party at midnight and spent the night in Washington. Though he had taken the train there, he came back by car on Sunday, aides said.

The illusion that everything was still OK began falling apart.

The Times began making inquiries Sunday, aides said, and that afternoon, Spitzer told his wife of 20 years and three teenage daughters about the accusations. He then informed top aides, and intense discussions about the governor’s options began at his apartment.

That afternoon, Gerald Lefcourt, a prominent New York City defense attorney, spotted Spitzer and his youngest daughter walking the dog through Central Park. Spitzer didn’t seem to have any security detail around him, Lefcourt said, and he seemed dejected.

Back in the apartment, Constantine and Wall began urging Spitzer to fight the inevitable calls for his resignation, but no decision was made. On Monday morning, top aide Richard Baum told staff of the controversy, and Spitzer called Lt. Gov. David Paterson.

So many reporters showed up for Spitzer’s news conference Monday that some were turned away for fear of violating fire codes. News Web sites crashed. Cable networks flashed endless footage of the governor as newscasters wondered aloud: Would he resign?

An hour late, the governor and his wife arrived, glassy-eyed and looking dazed. Wall stared at the text of the short speech Spitzer read from as he apologized for what he vaguely called a “private matter.”

“I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and that violates my – or any – sense of right and wrong,” he said.

Declining to take questions, he and his wife quickly left the room.

In Spitzer’s office, the atmosphere was “funereal,” said one staffer. On Wall Street, where Spitzer had collected scalps from his days as attorney general, there were cheers, including on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

In Albany, the reaction was more complicated. Shock, fascination, confusion, and of course, some delight at the downfall of the man who called himself a “steamroller.”

“Everyone was glued to their BlackBerries,” a legislative aide said.

Calls for governor’s resignation

The political equation for the unpopular governor quickly became clear. Republican lawmakers began calling for his resignation, and soon, some Democrats joined the chorus.

On Monday night, many Democrats began preparing for Spitzer’s resignation. The exclusive neighborhood outside his apartment – Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s home and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are nearby – became clogged with reporters, satellite trucks and curious onlookers.

Instead, Spitzer appeared to dig in. He canceled all events and hired a high-powered white-collar defense attorney. Friends and colleagues came and went, but neither Spitzer nor his wife emerged from their home. He tried to hire public relations firms, said one source, but they turned him down – there was nothing they could do.

By Tuesday afternoon, sources said, Spitzer reached the decision nearly everyone predicted: He could not continue as governor and must resign. Preparing for the end, he wrote his last speech as a politician and took a few calls.

“We’re all a group of friends, still, and we’re trying to take care of each other,” said one confidant.

On Wednesday morning, Spitzer and his wife stood again, wan and humiliated, before a bank of cameras. He apologized, confirmed he was resigning and said, someday, he would work again for the public good – “outside of politics.”

He did not take questions. The couple walked out, not touching, and it was over.

This article was reported by MELANIE LEFKOWITZ, ROBERT E. KESSLER, CRAIG GORDON, DAN JANISON, JAMES T. MADORE, ANTHONY M. DESTEFANO and MICHAEL AMON. It was written by AMON.

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