ALBANY, N.Y. – State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (search), whose investigations have shaken the nation's financial institutions, said Tuesday he will run for governor of New York in 2006.
"The state is at a point of crisis," Spitzer told The Associated Press. "The state is in dire need of leadership that will address budget issues, tax issues. We are bleeding jobs. We need reform in the process of government."
Long known to be interested in the job, it marked the first time the high-profile attorney general has said he will definitely run for the state's highest office.
The two-term attorney general has won national and international attention with groundbreaking investigations of Wall Street investment houses, mutual fund managers and, most recently, the insurance industry.
Republican Gov. George Pataki (search) has not yet said if he will seek a fourth, four-year term in 2006, although new state GOP Chairman Stephen Minarik said Friday he expected the governor would run again.
Spitzer said he would continue to serve as attorney general and has no idea who his Republican opponent might be or of he will face a Democratic primary.
A statewide poll released last week by Zogby International (search) had Spitzer favored by 44 percent of likely voters with Pataki the choice of 41 percent. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (search), a Republican, topped Spitzer, 52 percent to 36 percent. Giuliani has not shown any interest in the governor's race.
The Harvard Law School-educated son of a millionaire New York City developer, Spitzer's path to the Democratic nomination was eased considerably last month when newly re-elected Sen. Charles Schumer said he would stay in Congress rather than run for governor. He was considered Spitzer's chief competition.
Spitzer, 45, already has the backing of a host of top New York Democrats, including former Gov. Mario Cuomo and state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, in his bid to become governor.
The announcement comes just two days before the Spitzer 2006 campaign committee stages a $1,000-a-person fund-raising lunch in Manhattan aimed at raising more than $2 million to add to the $5.5 million it already has in the kitty. The scheduled celebrity guest at the Spitzer event is actress Renee Zellweger (search). Last year, Spitzer had tennis great John McEnroe as the featured guest at a similar event.
While Spitzer's high-profile investigations of financial institutions have put him on the political map -- there have been multimillion dollar settlements and boardroom resignations -- he has also sued the federal government over environmental issues and become a consumer-rights activist.
But his activities have also drawn criticism that he is most interested in headlines. Pataki spokeswoman Lisa DeWald Stoll once said: "We all know that A.G. stands for aspiring governor."
In seven years with Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, Spitzer rose to head the labor racketeering unit. He finished fourth in a Democratic primary for attorney general in 1994 and then narrowly beat Republican incumbent Dennis Vacco for the job in 1998. He easily won a second, four-year term in 2002.
Despite thinning hair and a noticeable 5 o'clock shadow, Spitzer has piercing blue eyes and last year was named one of New York magazine's "50 Sexiest New Yorkers."
"We love the strong-jawed, bright-eyed attorney general, a modern-day Eliot Ness who's both tough and charming," the magazine gushed.
"It was good for a laugh at home," recalled Spitzer. "My daughters thought it was a big joke."