Incoming NY governor says transition is going well, government is stable

This undated image obtained from a MySpace webpage shows a woman identified as Ashley Alexandra Dupre. The New York Times reported Wednesday March 12, 2008 that the name of the woman identified as Kristen in court papers alleging that Gov. Eliot Spitzer Erika Strebel


This undated image obtained from a MySpace webpage shows a woman identified as Ashley Alexandra Dupre. The New York Times reported Wednesday March 12, 2008 that the name of the woman identified as “Kristen” in court papers alleging that Gov. Eliot Spitzer Erika Strebel

By Valerie Bauman

ALBANY, N.Y. – Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who will take over as New York’s governor following Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s dramatic fall from power in a prostitution scandal, rushed off to meet with lawmakers Thursday as he prepared for his transition.

He was set to speak publicly Thursday afternoon, with much of the state still reeling from Spitzer’s resignation. One of his first tasks will be working with lawmakers to close a $4.7 billion deficit and broker a deal by April 1 on a $124 billion budget proposed by Spitzer.

“The message to the people of New York is that New York state government is still thriving, and we are still serving the people,” Paterson said Thursday morning in his first public comments since Spitzer’s implosion.

“We have a budget to pass, we have a deadline to meet,” Paterson said. “If we can do that, we’ll be back on track.”

Spitzer stepped down amid a call-girl scandal that made a mockery of his straight-arrow image and left him facing the prospect of criminal charges and perhaps disbarment. Paterson takes over Monday, and requested the time lag so he could prepare and so Spitzer could say a proper goodbye to his staff.

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Spitzer and his successor have starkly different leadership styles. While Spitzer was famously abrasive, uncompromising and even insulting, Paterson has built a reputation as a conciliator, and lawmakers quickly embraced the new order.

Barely known outside his Harlem political base, Paterson, 53, has been in New York government since his election to the state Senate in 1985. Though legally blind, he has enough sight in his right eye to walk unaided, recognize people at conversational distance and even read if the text is placed close to his face.

Paterson said he had spoken to Spitzer. “I just told him how sorry I was this happened and how much he still inspires me,” Paterson said.

Of Spitzer’s disclosures and resignation, Paterson said: “I’m getting over it.”

Spitzer resigned Wednesday, making an announcement without securing a plea bargain with federal prosecutors, though a law enforcement official said the former governor was still believed to be negotiating one. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

“I cannot allow my private failings to disrupt the people’s work,” Spitzer said at a Manhattan news conference, his weary-looking wife, Silda, again standing at his side as he answered for his actions for the second time in three days.

The resignation brought down the curtain on a riveting drama – played out, sometimes, as farce – that made Spitzer an instant punchline on late-night TV and fascinated Americans with the spectacle of a crusading politician exposed as a hypocrite.

The scandal erupted Monday after federal law enforcement officials disclosed that a wiretap had caught the 48-year-old father of three teenage daughters arranging to spend thousands of dollars on a call girl at a fancy Washington hotel on the night before Valentine’s Day.

Investigators said he had arranged for a prostitute named Kristen to take the train down from New York while he was in the nation’s capital to testify before a congressional subcommittee about the bond industry.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that the woman, born as Ashley Youmans, legally changed her name to Ashley Rae Maika DiPietro and is now known as Ashley Alexandra Dupre. She declined comment when asked by the Times when she first met Spitzer and how many times they had been together.

It was unclear whether she would face charges; attorney Don D. Buchwald confirmed that he represents the same woman in the Times story but wouldn’t comment further.

Law enforcement officials said the governor had hired prostitutes several times before and had spent tens of thousands of dollars, and perhaps as much as $80,000, on the high-priced escort service Emperors Club VIP, whose women charge as much as $5,500 an hour.

After making a watery-eyed, nonspecific public apology Monday with his wife by his side, Spitzer continued to talk to family and advisers through Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, aides said, he had decided to resign.

In a statement issued after Spitzer quit, U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia, the chief federal prosecutor in New York, said: “There is no agreement between this office and Gov. Eliot Spitzer relating to his resignation or any other matter.”

Among the possible charges that law enforcement authorities said could be brought against the former governor: soliciting and paying for sex; violating the Mann Act, the 1910 federal law that makes it a crime to take someone across state lines for immoral purposes; and illegally arranging cash transactions to conceal their purpose.

Spitzer could also be disbarred. In New York, an attorney can lose his license to practice law for failing to “conduct himself both professionally and personally, in conformity with the standards of conduct imposed upon members of the bar.”

It was a spectacular collapse for a man who cultivated an image as a hard-nosed politician hell-bent on cleansing the state of corruption. He served two terms as New York attorney general, earning the nickname “Sheriff of Wall Street,” and was elected governor with a record share of the vote in 2006. The tall, athletic, square-jawed Spitzer was sometimes mentioned as a potential candidate for president.

Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik in New York City and Michael Gormley in Albany contributed to this report.