Pushback

These periodic publicity blitzes (“listening tours”) by the Spitzer Administration just aren’t doing it for me. There is yet another editorial-board Q&A in today’s Post-Standard, and there was a fifteen-minute interview with Spitzer on public television this weekend.

In the TV interview — part of WMHT-Albany’s “New York Now” — Spitzer was asked how he was going to make nice with Bruno after all that has happened. For a brief moment, I imagined Spitzer saying something like, “I’m not — we’re going to get rid of him.” Something which I and probably a lot of other people of the state of New York, regardless of party, would like to hear. (“Get rid of” meaning ending GOP control of the Senate, of course.) Predictably the governor did not say that and instead said the usual vague “I always try to work with him” la de da. (I have an overactive imagination sometimes.)

It was a pretty disappointing interview, but what do you expect from the Albany media? They thought they were being hardnosed by grilling him on his crappy past year, and then they wasted several minutes in talking with Spitzer about NYRA. With all due respect, who the f— cares about NYRA? Do people in Brooklyn care? Do people in Jamestown care? Do people in Massena care? Only people in the Albany (Saratoga) area care. How about talking about NYRI for a change? (Can we show the governor this handy map of various proposed NYRI routes and see what he has to say, just on the spot?)

The New Yorker has a well-written story on Spitzer and his last year which is available online. Surprisingly, it acknowledges the world beyond the Hudson River. My attention was grabbed by the opening description of the hard realities of the state’s geography — but also by this one:

But amid all the rancor, the bad press, and the souring of his prospects, the Governor has kept at it, admitting little in the way of doubt or regret, and seeing the “pushback,” as he and his circle describe it, as evidence of headway.

The last time I heard this word I happened to be at a meeting of local movers and shakers who, probably much like Spitzer, have a high sense of mission. (I was only present at this meeting to give a brief presentation, but was there long enough to hear some initial agenda items discussed.) I hadn’t heard the word before, but it was clear that it was a buzzword within this group, and people were used to using it and understood – at least among themselves – what it meant. It sounded like corporatespeak to me at the time. But now that I see Spitzer’s group also uses it (Spitzer uses it again himself later in the story), I wonder if it is a self-justifying word that is peculiarly beloved of insular groups that have trouble hearing things outside their own small circle.

Spitzer is just not a good interview, I think. Most of what this man says is none too accomplished politicalspeak; but the point with Spitzer is what he does, not what he says — that’s always been his forte. So I shouldn’t feel disappointed that that’s the sort of governor we’ve wound up with: a man who speaks blandly and carries a big stick. I think he’s not even an actual policy wonk. (Wonkspeak would be more substantial.) We’ve elected a blunt instrument who, I fear, is about to become useful to the very people we don’t want to give a blunt instrument to — those who support Albany’s status quo.

How do we get this blunt instrument into the hands of the people? To me, that’s the real downer about Spitzer’s bad year: we elected a lethal weapon that we seem unwilling to use. It could be that Spitzer deep down finds these Upstate listening tours as boring as we find them; maybe he is wondering where the fire is. The New Yorker story — which alas, is ultimately just as Hudson-bound as WMHT’s reporter — insinuates that Spitzer keeps going Upstate to escape the “real” tasks of governing, i.e., playing Albany’s game. (After such a great beginning depicting the sprawl and grandeur of the Empire State, the author of the New Yorker story never acknowledges Upstate as a flesh-and-blood place again.) I prefer to entertain a different view of it: I think Spitzer understands that Upstate is a potential goldmine of political leverage, but just doesn’t know how to mine it and is trying to make it up as he goes along.

Surely I can’t be the only one who feels certain that Spitzer is listening to too small a group of people, and some of the weaker (not necessarily wrong) ideas, when he comes up here. We can’t have his insular group merely talking to other insular groups; nothing will happen. We can’t sit through another three years of these editorial-board Q&A’s that don’t produce anything worth quoting. He’s a marvelous instrument of change fallen into inefficient hands, and that’s what’s really the problem. Our problem.

3 Replies to “Pushback”

  1. I’m with you 100%, maybe even more on Spitzer, but NYRA certainly generates interest downstate – they run Aqueduct and Belmont, not just Saratoga.

    (Speaking of which, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs may be closing. Or maybe it’s just another threat by the owners to get better tax treatment.)

    You got both my biggest fear:

    The New Yorker story… insinuates that Spitzer keeps going Upstate to escape the “real” tasks of governing, i.e., playing Albany’s game.

    and my biggest question:

    How do we get this blunt instrument into the hands of the people?

    into a single paragraph. Wow!

  2. An “instrument of change”?

    If, as you suggest, the point of Spitzer is what he does and not what he says..well..what has he done? That’s a serious question, and one that I think is at the heart of his abysmal approval ratings. Everything was supposed to change on day one.

    It didn’t. And, if anything, the state government is even more dysfunctional now than it was under the last administration. An accomplishment that I think has stunned even the jaded voters of New York.

  3. I agree, this past year has been stunningly bad and nothing has gotten done. Some people feel Spitzer needs to make nice and learn to be political; others disagree. I still tend to be hawkish on Spitzer and Albany. But I think no one is happy with his performance, whatever their theory of Spitzer or of good governance. We started out with three men in a room… then Spitzer turned it into one man in a room (himself)… now we’re working our way back to two men in a room (Spitzer and Silver) – and guess what, someone’s got to sit on the floor in that room because there’s only one chair…

    I really don’t think New York voters thought Spitzer was a genius politician, but perhaps underestimated just how much steering he would require. How do you ride this horse and make him go where you want to go?

    BTW, the New Yorker article is all Spitzer and Bruno. Not a peep from or even ABOUT Silver (who I think is mentioned once or twice). And that’s just the way Silver likes it. So it’s well-written as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far.

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