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Future of Spitzer, dubbed 'Eliot Ness,' suddenly cloudy

  • Story Highlights
  • Spitzer rose to prominence as a hard-charging attorney general
  • He was known for rooting out corruption within Wall Street and on the streets
  • He apologized for undisclosed personal failing Monday, with his wife by his side
  • People who know Spitzer are shocked he may have acted inappropriately
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(CNN) -- New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's political future clouded abruptly Monday with his admission that he had violated the trust of his family and the public in the wake of reports a federal investigation had linked him to a prostitution ring.

Authorities are looking into whether Spitzer, 48, met with a prostitute in a Washington hotel, two sources with knowledge of the investigation told CNN.

Spitzer did not specifically address the allegations in his appearance Monday, and did not take questions.

Before his announcement, three Democratic sources -- one in New York's capital, Albany; one in New York; and one in Washington -- told CNN a top Spitzer aide had told them the governor would resign.

He did not do so Monday.

Spitzer, a Democrat, rose to prominence as a hard-charging attorney general hailed by Time magazine as "Crusader of the Year." He was nicknamed "Eliot Ness" by the New York tabloids in reference to the incorruptible hero of "The Untouchables." He was known for rooting out corruption within Wall Street and on the streets. See a timeline of his life »

He made several high-profile prosecutions of Wall Street figures, extracting billions of dollars in fines from investment banks, mutual funds and brokerage houses.

He also made a name for himself by busting prostitution rings.

Taking office as governor January 1, 2007, after a landslide victory, Spitzer declared: "We must transform our government so that it is as ethical and wise as all of New York."

CNN's senior legal affairs analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who went to Harvard Law School with Spitzer, said the prostitution allegation was a surprise.

"To say this is a shock is an understatement," he said.

Brooke Masters, author of the 2006 Spitzer biography "Spoiling for a Fight," said she was "really surprised that [the scandal is] about personal ethics." Video Watch Spitzer apologize »

She said Spitzer's opponents on Wall Street accused him of a "holier-than-thou" attitude.

"He would say they had conflicts of interest while ignoring his own conflicts of interest. He certainly got a bit of criticism for having a bit of a double standard," she said.

"He would use his power of attorney general for what the business people thought was holding them hostage and giving them fines. They thought he was too virtuous."

Once seen as a rising star within the Democratic party, Spitzer had a rocky first year as governor. He was accused in July of using state police to keep tabs on a political rival, state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and was forced to drop a plan to issue driver's licenses to undocumented workers in November amid public outcry.

The driver's license plan briefly gained national attention when presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York appeared to endorse it, then backed away from it. Spitzer has endorsed Clinton.

"It's not as though it's hitting him at a moment of strength," Masters said of the prostitution allegations. She said it is too early to write off Spitzer's political career, "but this is not a good time."

Spitzer considered himself an heir of reformers such as Theodore Roosevelt, whose portrait he kept in his office as attorney general, Masters wrote in her biography.

"I invoke him for the notion that capitalists understand when the market needs to be tamed," he said, specifically aligning himself with the early 20th century Progressive movement rather than the more radical Populists represented by William Jennings Bryan.

Spitzer was raised in the affluent neighborhood of Riverdale in the Bronx, New York. He met his wife, Silda, when he was in law school and they married in 1987. They have three daughters.

She appeared with him when he made his statement Monday, but did not speak.

Spitzer worked as an attorney in the public and private sectors before he was elected attorney general, including serving as an assistant district attorney in the Manhattan district attorney's office from 1986 to 1992.

He also worked for the New York City law firms of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; and Constantine & Partners, according to his official biography on the New York governor's Web site.

Spitzer was born June 10, 1959, in the Bronx. He graduated from Horace Mann School, received his undergraduate degree from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and his law degree from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review.

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After law school, he clerked for U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet, the official biography says.

If Spitzer resigns, Lt. Gov. David Paterson would complete his term, in accordance with the New York state constitution. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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