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Prostitution link tarnishes Spitzer's "clean" image

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer promised voters he would clean up the state’s corrupt political ethics, but a report on Monday that he is linked to a prostitution ring is threatening to derail the career of a man once considered a political star.

The 48-year-old Democrat has blazed a national reputation as “Mr. Clean,” advocating for the underdog and tackling corporate greed on Wall Street.

Spitzer saw himself following in the footsteps of the state’s many well-known governors, from Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt to Nelson Rockefeller, and some speculated he could eventually make a run for the White House.

But on Monday, the New York Times reported Spitzer had been caught on a federal wiretap last month as he arranged to meet a prostitute. Spitzer apologized to his family at a news conference, saying he had violated his, “or any -- sense of right and wrong.”

The leader of the minority Republicans in the state Assembly, James Tedisco, called for his resignation.

ROCKY TENURE

The scandal is the latest bump in Spitzer’s volatile tenure as governor of the nation’s third-most populous state.

Spitzer was already battling questions about his aides using state police to gather potentially damaging information on his chief Republican rival, state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

And despite winning the election by a landslide in 2006, voters gave Spitzer a negative job performance rating in February -- by a 2-to-1 margin -- and twice as many said they would “prefer someone else” rather than re-elect him, according to a February 20 poll by Siena Research Institute.

Spitzer, however seemed to be back on track. Just a few weeks ago he seemed on the verge of finally wresting control of the Republican-led Senate from his political rival after upstate voters elected a Democrat to an open seat, cutting the Republican lead in the Senate to just one vote.

FROM THE CITY TO ALBANY

Born to Austrian Jewish parents, Spitzer grew up in the affluent Riverdale area of the Bronx, attending the rigorous Horace Mann School. His father, developer Bernard Spitzer, had built a construction company into one of the city’s largest real estate firms.

The younger Spitzer, however, gravitated toward public service and went on to earn a degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, and a law degree from Harvard, where he was editor at the Harvard Law review.

Spitzer met his wife, Silda Wall, while studying at Harvard and the two were married in New York City in 1987. They have three daughters: Elyssa, Sarabeth, and Jenna.

His wife chairs the Children for Children non-profit organization.

Spitzer’s political career began early. After law school Spitzer clerked for a federal judge, and eventually became an assistant district attorney.

He rose quickly to head the Labor and Racketeering unit, and led a high-profile case that ended the Gambino crime family’s control over trucking and garment industries in the city.

Before becoming governor, Spitzer was known for his eight years as attorney general of New York. In his battles with financial institutions, he accused insurance companies of bid rigging, sued the former chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange over his pay package, and went after the mutual fund industry.

In 2006 Spitzer took 69 percent of the popular vote in his bid for governor, defeating Republican John Faso. He was officially sworn into office in January 2007.

Editing by Michelle Nichols and Eric Beech

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