State of the disunion

Sean Kirst has a good column today on how the intentions mean as much as, if not even more than, the actual plans that Eliot Spitzer will lay out today in New York’s first-ever State of the Upstate speech. (The AP story about his speech is getting some national syndication, I notice.) The existence of a separate “state of the (dis)union” speech has met with some criticism, but I would prefer to look at it as being part and parcel with Spitzer’s “Appalachia” comment of a couple years ago: a tacit cry for help, something you don’t want to have to say but must. Yes, it is stupid to split the state into two parts, but the economic imbalance between the regions is stupid, and if it takes the governor doing something “stupid” to get the attention of the downstate media, so be it.

I like the way Spitzer has framed the question, and in a way, his most recent “State of the State” speech builds upon a lot of the stock rhetoric he used in his “One New York” campaign speeches about New York’s glorious story:

In the 1970s, we came together to rescue another part of the State that was struggling – New York City. We knew that as One New York, we would rise or fall together. Now is the time for us to come together and do for Upstate in our time what our predecessors did for New York City a generation ago.

For the first time, someone has woven Upstate’s decline into this narrative, a rhetorical owning of the problem we have not seen before coming from the top. A good story has a certain symmetry to it, and to paint Upstate’s problems in terms that the NYC-centric downstate media can grasp is the smart thing to do (even if Upstate was not wholly responsible for “saving” New York City from its ’70s morass). It also happens to be a frame that doesn’t finger-point and makes everyone on both sides feel warm and fuzzy, not denigrated or humiliated.

Could it be that Spitzer… gets it? (In a way he was unable to grasp when it came to dealing with the actual personalities in the Senate and Assembly?)

As for the actual plans, I’m less enthusiastic. From what I’ve heard about them, there’s really nothing new (except maybe the part about the loan help for doctors who agree to practice in underserved Upstate communities – it’s about time we subsidized something other than malls). I don’t expect anything new and exciting for Syracuse, just an extension of the same university- and tech-centered initiatives we’ve been hearing about already. For all of their bright hopes and sound logic, those initiatives are in a race against a declining economy, one which will surely affect the availability of state funds, not to mention corporate funds. (Anyone read the latest about JPMorgan Chase, btw?) And then there’s the assumption that higher ed will always be a boom industry. The warnings buried in this Chronicle of Higher Ed article will strike a familiar chord to those who were around for the enrollment drops of the late ’80s and downsizing of the early ’90s. (As for rating service upgrades on various institutions… well, these are the same ratings services that gave out the high ratings for the very same banks and lenders that are suddenly in deep trouble. Take that as you will.)

A link of note on the upstate-downstate theme: Fault Lines looks at some recent stories about how well the Albany area is doing.

Also of note, since we were talking about the closing of minimum-security prison camps downblog, is this Kingston Daily Freeman editorial on some Upstate communities’ overreliance on the prisoner biz.

One Reply to “State of the disunion”

  1. Great links that I would never have run across on my own. Many thanks.

    I think it is a good precedent to set some goals on an annual basis for upstate revitalization, and then revisit them. Accountability on these issues would do NYS a world of good– and the formal nature of the speech as an annual thing gets the press’s attention.

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