NEW YORK – New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace Wednesday after getting caught in a call-girl scandal that shattered his corruption-fighting, straight-arrow image, saying: "I cannot allow my private failings to disrupt the people's work."
Spitzer made the announcement without having finalized a plea deal with federal prosecutors, though a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation said he is believed to still be negotiating one. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
"Over the course of my public life, I've insisted, I believe correctly, that people regardless of their position or power take responsibility for their conduct. I can and will ask no less of myself," Spitzer said at a Manhattan news conference with his wife, Silda, at his side. He left without answering questions.
"For this reason, I am resigning from the office of governor."
Spitzer will be replaced on Monday by Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who becomes New York's first black governor. He also will be the state's first legally blind governor and its first disabled governor since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Paterson issued a statement in which he said he was saddened, but would move forward. "It is now time for Albany to get back to work as the people of this state expect from us," he said.
New York lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, quickly began coalescing around Paterson. Spitzer's party declined to rush to his defense as events unfolded this week.
"I'm deeply saddened by this turn of events and my thoughts are with Governor Spitzer's family during this painful time," Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said while on the presidential campaign trail.
"I would also like to express my support for Lt. Governor David Paterson. I look forward to continuing to work with him on behalf of the people of New York. David has overcome every obstacle and broken every barrier in his path - and I know that he'll continue to display that leadership and determination as governor."
New York Sen. Charles Schumer said: "My sympathies go out to Governor Spitzer and his family. He certainly did the right thing by stepping aside and I wish him and his family well."
He said he spoke with Paterson Wednesday morning, and "I pledged my full support and cooperation. David Paterson will be a first-rate governor and he has my full confidence. He is smart, brings people of differing views and backgrounds together, and has always grown in every job he has served. I will enthusiastically do everything I can to help and make his tenure as governor a success."
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said: "This is a sad time for our state and the Spitzer family. As a longtime opponent of sex trafficking, I was shocked and heartbroken to hear that the Governor was linked to a prostitution ring. It's a sad irony that Governor Spitzer fought for and signed the toughest anti-trafficking legislation in our states history.
She added: "The governor's office could not be in better hands than those of David Paterson.
The scandal erupted two days ago when allegations surfaced that the 48-year-old Spitzer spent thousands of dollars on a call girl at a swanky Washington hotel on the night before Valentine's Day.
Spitzer was more composed Wednesday than he was at his appearance two days ago, when he looked pale, drawn and glassy-eyed. The couple stood quietly Wednesday, inches apart; they never touched as they entered or left the room.
His wife took deep breaths as hundreds of photos were taken at close range. Each of Spitzer's words was accompanied by a rush of camera clicks.
Spitzer and his wife left their apartment around 11 a.m. and got into a black SUV to take them to his office. Cameras aboard news helicopters tracked the movement of Spitzer's three-vehicle motorcade from his apartment on the Upper East Side to his office in midtown Manhattan.
Spitzer appeared for the first time since he made a brief statement this past Monday after the first reports surfaced. He apologized for his behavior — without spelling out what he did — and asked for forgiveness, and asked for quick support for Paterson.
"In the past few days, I have begun to atone for my private failings with my wife Silda, my children and my entire family," Spitzer 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.
"From those to whom much has been given, much is expected. I have been given much — the love of my family, the faith and trust of the people of New York, and the chance to lead this state.
"I am deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me."
Video: Spitzer Resigns
The announcement followed two days of furious activity. Calls for his resignation came immediately. Republicans began talking impeachment if he didn't step aside. Meanwhile, Spitzer stayed holed up in his Manhattan apartment, where he was reportedly weighing his options, including waiting to use resignation as a bargaining chip with federal prosecutors to avoid indictment.
U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia just said in statement that "There is no agreement between this Office and Governor Eliot Spitzer, relating to his resignation or any other matter."
Attending the news conference with Spitzer were his close advisers and lawyers, including Ted Wells, a prominent attorney who recently represented I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Paterson, the soon-to-be governor, was not at the announcement, but he issued a statement in which he said he was "saddened by what we have learned over the past several days."
"It is now time for Albany to get back to work as the people of this state expect from us," said Paterson.
The Spitzer scandal erupted Monday when allegations surfaced that Spitzer, a 48-year-old married man with three teenage daughters, spent thousands of dollars on a call girl named Kristen at a swanky Washington hotel on the night before Valentine's Day.
"I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and violates my — or any — sense of right and wrong," the governor said at a news conference with his wife, Silda, at his side. "I apologize to the public, whom I promised better."
Calls for his resignation came immediately. Republicans began talking impeachment if he didn't step aside. Meanwhile, Spitzer stayed holed up in his Manhattan apartment, where he was reportedly weighing his options, including waiting to use resignation as a bargaining chip with federal prosecutors to avoid indictment.
The case involving Spitzer started when banks noticed frequent cash transfers from several accounts and filed suspicious activity reports with the Internal Revenue Service, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. The accounts were traced back to Spitzer, leading public corruption investigators to open an inquiry.
A law enforcement official said Tuesday that Spitzer had spent tens of thousands of dollars with the call-girl service Emperors Club VIP. Another official said the amount could be as high as $80,000.
Still another law enforcement official said investigators found that during the tryst with Kristen, Spitzer used two rooms at Washington's Mayflower Hotel — one for himself, the other for the prostitute. Sometime around 10 p.m., Spitzer sneaked away from his security detail and made his way to her room, the official said.
According to an affidavit, a federal judge approved wiretaps on the escort service's telephone in January and February. FBI agents in Washington had the Mayflower under surveillance when Spitzer was in town, a senior law enforcement official said.
The officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
Spitzer, a first-term Democrat, built his political reputation on rooting out government corruption, and made a name for himself as attorney general as crusader against shady practices and overly generous compensation. He also cracked down on prostitution.
He was known as the "Sheriff of Wall Street." Time magazine named him "Crusader of the Year," and the tabloids proclaimed him "Eliot Ness." The square-jawed graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law was sometimes mentioned as a potential candidate for president.
He rode into the governor's office with a historic margin of victory on Jan. 1, 2007, vowing to stamp out corruption in New York government in the same way that he took on Wall Street executives with a vengeance while state attorney general.
His term as governor has been fraught with problems, including an unpopular plan to grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and a plot by his aides to smear his main Republican nemesis. The prostitution scandal, some said, was too much to overcome.
White House press secretary Dana Perino responded to Spitzer's resignation by repeating that President Bush views it as a "sad situation."
"He has Gov. Spitzer and Gov. Spitzer's family in his thoughts and prayers," Perino said. "And he looks forward to working with Lt. Gov. Paterson when he takes over the post on Monday."
Asked if Bush planned to call Spitzer, Perino said: "I certainly think that's possible."
Barely known outside of his Harlem political base, Paterson, 53, has been in New York government since his election to the state Senate in 1985. He led the Democratic caucus in the Senate before running with Spitzer as his No. 2.
Though legally blind, Paterson has enough sight in his right eye to walk unaided, recognize people at conversational distance and even read if text is placed close to his face. While Spitzer is renowned for his abrasive style, Paterson has built a reputation as a conciliator.
At a morning news conference, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Spitzer's chief rival, said he had not yet heard from the governor but that he was moving on with the business of the state. Lawmakers were set to vote on budget bills Wednesday afternoon.
"We are going to partner with the lieutenant governor when he becomes governor," said Bruno. "David has always been very open with me, very forthright ... I look forward to a positive, productive relationship."
With Paterson's ascension to the top post, the lieutenant governor's seat is technically left vacant until the time of the next gubernatorial election, which will be in 2010.
When the post is vacant, the state Senate majority leader, currently Republican Joe Bruno, takes on the responsibilities of the lieutenant governor, whose primary duty is to serve as the Senate president.
Spokesman Scott Reif told FOXNews.com that Bruno would "obviously continue in his position as Senate majority leader" but would also be responsible for tie-breaking votes. He could not say offhand whether that meant Bruno would technically have two votes on legislation.
As for other ceremonial responsibilities given to the lieutenant governor, that would be up to Paterson to confer.
Reif said Bruno and Paterson have a good relationship.
"Senator Bruno has said ... he expects to be able to work with him to get done the things that we need to get done here, like a budget," which is due April 1, Reif said.