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Behind the Scenes: Spitzer's resignation

  • Story Highlights
  • Air was thick with anticipation as disgraced governor prepared to resign
  • Even jaded New Yorkers were stunned by turn of events
  • Spitzer's downfall was stunning in its speed and magnitude
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By Allan Chernoff
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Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events. Here, Allan Chernoff talks about the resignation announcement of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, wife at his side, announces he is stepping down.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- It was squeeze time. With scores of reporters, producers and photographers all desperate to get past the state trooper and p.r. gatekeepers into Gov. Spitzer's midtown Manhattan office for his expected resignation announcement, I simply had to squeeze my way through. Years of crowd skills honed on rush-hour subways now came into use as I gradually advanced to the front of the scrum. "CNN reporter!" I barked at the trooper, flashing my press ID. I was in.

Upstairs on the 38th floor of the Third Avenue skyscraper, the air was thick with anticipation, journalists salivating at the opportunity to witness history: Gov. Eliot Spitzer about to resign in disgrace, a victim of his own indiscretion, following the revelation he had frequented a high-priced prostitution ring, the Emperors' Club.

This would make him the first New York governor to be forced from office in nearly a century. Many of us had covered his press conferences during the past decade, when it was always Eliot Spitzer playing the White Knight, the enforcer of high ethical standards on brokers, bankers, insurers, health care providers, among others, and yes, even those who engaged in the sex trade.

As attorney general for eight years Spitzer stood as a crusader for moral rectitude, often intimidating business executives into settlements, even in cases where it was not crystal clear that crimes had been committed.

The magnitude of the irony was not lost on any of us.

Even jaded New Yorkers, almost immune to political scandal and corruption, were stunned to learn Spitzer was just a big-spending john. He entered the briefing room 15 minutes behind schedule with his wife at his side. Rather than surveying the crowd of journalists before him with satisfaction, as he had often done in the past, Spitzer got right down to business.

"In the past few days I have begun to atone for my private failings." The words from Gov. Spitzer were there, but the emotion, the body language was not. It was virtually the same determined tone he almost always presented to the media.

"I am deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me. To every New Yorker and to all those who believed in what I tried to stand for, I sincerely apologize," said the governor.

But in the next breath it was back to his achievements. "As a public servant, I, and the remarkable people with whom I worked have accomplished a great deal."

Scandal had not extinguished Spitzer's pride. Then he spoke of a resurrection.

"As human beings, our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." He had apologized, had abdicated the state's highest post. Yet he had not conveyed a sense of true contrition; his presentation was unlikely to earn much sympathy from constituents. Seconds later the outgoing governor concluded: "Thank you very much." It was all over in just over two minutes.

Spitzer and his wife turned toward the door before a few reporters yelled out questions. "Silda, are you going to leave him?" shouted a New York Post columnist.

The downfall was stunning in its speed, only equivalent to the magnitude of the governor's collapse.

Spitzer had described himself as a political "steamroller." But in the end this proud politician had only crushed himself. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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