New York governor must resign

Of all the officials who should know what a serious transgression it is to transport a prostitute across state lines in violation of the federal Mann Act — passed in 1910 to stop the white slavery sex trade — surely the sitting governor of New York and that state’s former attorney general is near the top of the list.

Surely Eliot Spitzer knew what he was doing when he arranged to meet a prostitute in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 13, during a telephone call overheard by federal investigators. The prostitute was provided by the Emperor’s Club VIP international prostitution ring based in New York. The ring’s top clients paid $5,500 an hour.

The transcript clearly indicated the call was not Spitzer’s first with the ring. If he avoids prosecution, it will fuel new accusations of a double standard for those in public life.

In any case, there is no honorable alternative to Spitzer’s resignation. He has broken the two most important vows in his life, his marriage vow to his wife and his public vow to New Yorkers to uphold the law.

One can only hope that the Spitzers are able to resolve their personal problems, because they undoubtedly have a very hard road ahead. For everybody else, the immediate concern is what Monday’s developments say about the rest of Spitzer’s public conduct as governor and his eight years as the state’s top law enforcement official.

Troubling questions remain, for example, about Spitzer’s knowledge of his senior aides’ misuse last year of state police in attempting to frame New York Senate Republican leader Joseph Bruno. Spitzer also won’t say what he did with thousands of dollars in contributions he received after 2001 from confessed felons such as William Lerach of the Milberg Weiss law firm, which is facing federal criminal racketeering charges.

Spitzer rode into the governor’s mansion in 2006 after a tumultuous reign as attorney general, during which he often displayed a brutish habit of grandstanding for the cameras while leveling unproven accusations of criminal wrongdoing against prominent Fortune 500 executives.

The media loved it, with an adoring 2002 portrait by Time magazine describing Spitzer as “Wall Street’s top cop.” Time quoted Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz saying Spitzer “is the real deal … he always wants to do what is right.”

Such praise rang hollow with corporate executives such as Hank Greenberg, formerly of AIG, who awoke one Thanksgiving Day to news stories quoting Spitzer accusing him of multiple criminal business practices. The charges were subsequently dropped but “the Sheriff of Wall Street” gained another corporate scalp for his belt, no matter the devastating public and personal harm that resulted.

Now, it’s the sheriff in trouble with the law.

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