NEW YORK -- Ensnared in a prostitution scandal, Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned from office yesterday, leaving it to his successor to sort out another mess: a politically torn legislature facing a $4.4 billion deficit.
The first-term Democratic governor resigned after a federal wiretap investigation revealed he was a client of a high-priced prostitution ring - by some accounts he might have spent $80,000 during numerous liaisons with employees of the Emperors Club VIP call girl service.
Spitzer, his wife by his side, stepped down from his post in a somber news conference yesterday morning. He offered his apologies and announced that, at the request of Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson, the transfer of power would take place Monday.
Paterson, 53, a Democrat from Harlem who was first elected to the state Senate in 1985, will become the first African-American and first legally blind governor of New York.
Paterson will inherit a laundry list of challenges, including passing a state budget, which must be enacted by March 31.
"He's entering a situation where the state has almost a $5 billion deficit and an economy that is underperforming," said Joseph Mercurio, a longtime political consultant in Manhattan. "He's got to figure out how to keep the state afloat in those conditions."
In a statement after Spitzer's resignation, Paterson said: "Like all New Yorkers, I am saddened by what we have learned over the past several days."
Paterson said he was close friends with Spitzer and his wife, Silda, adding: "As an elected official, the governor has worked hard for the people of New York.
"It is now time for Albany to get back to work as the people of this state expect from us."
Spitzer announced his resignation before noon at his midtown Manhattan office after staying huddled with family and advisers at his home for more than 36 hours.
"In the past few days, I have begun to atone for my private failings with my wife, Silda, my children and my entire family," he said. "The remorse I feel will always be with me. Words cannot describe how grateful I am for the love and compassion they have shown me."
Silda Wall Spitzer stood with her hands clasped behind her back, looking weary and occasionally locking her eyes on his face during the two-minute speech, in which Spitzer apologized to his family and the people who believed in him.
"There is much more to be done, and I cannot allow my private failings to disrupt the people's work," he said.
Spitzer, 48, the father of three teenage daughters, ended by offering his prayers for Paterson, whom he called a friend.
Also yesterday, U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia responded to speculation that Spitzer might have been trying to use his resignation as a bargaining chip to cut a deal with federal prosecutors. Garcia said in a statement: "There is no agreement between this office and Governor Eliot Spitzer, relating to his resignation or any other matter."
Paterson, unlike Spitzer, is known for a calm and collegial personal style. Spitzer's confrontational and often abrasive personality did not lend itself to political successes in Albany. Lawmakers and analysts expect working across party lines might come easier to Paterson, who forged relationships with Republicans during his 20 years in the state Senate.
"Not only are there partisan fissures that slow things down in Albany, but there are institutional fissures as well," said Bruce Berg, chair of the political science department at Fordham University.
Paterson "assumes this position under very difficult circumstances," Berg said. "While all this has been going on with the resignation, you've still got interest groups wandering around lobbying the Statehouse and Legislature seeking to get what they want because this is budget time."
Paterson will also have to figure out what will become of Spitzer's proposals for campaign finance reform, increases in pay for lawmakers and plans to redraw legislative districts, among others.
Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, who clashed repeatedly with Spitzer in the past, said there was a "sigh of relief" in Albany yesterday. The scandal had consumed legislators, and Bruno said they must now work together on the business of New York state and focus on fiscal challenges.
Bruno, a Republican who said he has a good relationship with Paterson and expects to work well with him, will assume the responsibilities and duties of the lieutenant governor, which includes holding a vote on the Senate floor and taking over if the governor becomes incapacitated or is out of the state.
"There's mutual respect," Bruno said of Paterson. "He's an experienced individual, fairly liberal but the kind of person you can sit with and talk things through."
New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, told reporters in Albany that Paterson comes from the legislature and understands it well. "I don't think he needs an orientation in terms of that; he can hit the ground running on Monday."
Spitzer's resignation followed revelations Monday that he spent thousands of dollars for a prostitute known as Kristen on the night before Valentine's Day at a hotel in Washington.
The Emperors Club VIP, for whom she worked, catered to wealthy men seeking beautiful young female consorts in New York, Washington, Miami, London, Paris and Los Angeles. A federal wiretap captured a man identified as "Client 9" - a regular customer of the Emperors Club - arranging a date last month with a petite brunette, an FBI affidavit said. Spitzer was Client 9, federal law enforcement officials have said.
As for Spitzer's future, it is unclear whether he will face charges stemming from the scandal. In his remarks, he acknowledged his political career has been derailed.
"As I leave public life, I will first do what I need to do to help and heal myself and my family. Then I will try once again, outside of politics, to serve the common good."
Erika Hayasaki writes for the Los Angeles Times.