Some observations on the New York State government crisis

Over the last 24 hours it has been fiendishly difficult to even find any really reliable news or even rumors about what’s happening in Albany (and Manhattan… of course). The reason why is that nobody really knows anything. Nobody can really know anything when you have a governor who has a very tight, almost hermetically sealed circle surrounding him. The average citizen started to learn more about this during last year’s Choppergate nonsense with Bruno, but now it’s painfully clear just how tiny Eliot Spitzer’s world in Albany really has become. It’s become something like a hostage standoff, with one person (and a couple of their closest advisors) holding a gun to New York’s government, screaming at the rest of the state (political opponents, political allies, media, citizens) to back off. Behavior that most New Yorkers have come to expect of the Senate Majority Leader and Assembly Speaker, and even the governor sometimes, but usually clothed in something resembling an issue of public business. Clothed in something other than raw self-concern (or more charitably, raw partisan concern).

With every passing hour, the behavior of the Spitzer camp is destroying whatever power is left in the New York governorship to rise above the fray of the Three Men arrangement. Not just for Gov. Spitzer, but for Gov. Paterson or which ever governor comes after. I think most New Yorkers know that their governors are just as self-interested as anyone else in Albany, but the Governor of New York is a different office, all the same. Only the governor is really expected or hoped to at least put on a show of rising above partisan or personal gain. We still believe this. I don’t know if we’re going to believe it tomorrow.

Another thing worth remarking on, is a different way to see this: We are witnessing a coup. Not an illegal coup, but a “coup” in the Albany sense — a perfectly by-the-political-rules attempt to remove a politically wounded and probably crippled head wolf. We in the citizenry (if we’re political junkies) hear about these coups, we talk about the failed Bragman coup and the way Joe Bruno took down his predecessor, and we gossip about who could be mounting one against Joe or Shelly, but never before have we witnessed one taking place involving a sitting governor.

The thing is, we’re not just witnessing it. We are involved in it. Ordinary citizens are never involved in Senate or Assembly coups. This time, the people of New York are involved. Opinion polls asking us what we think, suddenly matter. Everyone who has anything to do with New York politics is involved. Everyone has an opinion on what should happen and whether or not Spitzer should leave. For all of the ways we fret about how to reinvigorate political activity in New York, the fact is, politics will come and find you, and yesterday, it found us all in the most visceral way. And there is, as of this writing, still the very real sense that every ounce of speaking out on the matter is important. What we say about it is unavoidably political because most of us by now know the ramifications of removing Spitzer (or not) and what it might mean for the future of the makeup of the state Senate, for example. Most New Yorkers seem to want Spitzer gone; a few are more hesitant. But I don’t think there’s ever been a 24 hour period where New Yorkers were ever this engaged in their government.

Ironically, Spitzer wanted “One New York.” Sadly, he’s brought it about. Just not in the way I think he intended.

I personally want Spitzer gone yesterday. I want David Paterson sworn in as soon as possible. In the end, I can only hope that Paterson — or somebody, if Paterson will not be permitted to — is able to perform the difficult job of behaving with the gubernatorial gravitas that Spitzer has abandoned, even if they don’t get to be governor. We need our governorship. There are deeply self-interested forces in Albany on all sides — not just Spitzer — who are perfectly content to destroy what little effectiveness and dignity New York’s government has left. Maybe we citizens are foolish for believing we can still have any of that, but it’s our duty to hope for it.

3 thoughts on “Some observations on the New York State government crisis

  1. Mrs. Mecomber

    I don’t think high standards and high expectations are ever foolish. I wish political leaders and citizens alike would heed the call that in order for New York to shine as a state, we must shine as individuals.

    Sam Adams said it better than I ever can:

    He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its Virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man… The sum of all is, if we would most truly enjoy this gift of Heaven, let us become a Virtuous People.

  2. Ellen Post author

    Well, here’s my take on what you say… On another blog, it was asked what bloggers and voters should do if Spitzer didn’t resign. My answer was essentially to drop down another level through the government and write/learn more about the struggles of those public servants who haven’t betrayed their values to such an extreme point. I stopped writing anything about Bush a long time ago. After a while it becomes counterproductive to just constantly call out the incurably shameless. You have to train your attention the people who have capacity for shame if they do wrong. And it amazes me that to this day, most of the blogosphere just jabbers on and on about Bush’s shamelessness… without really offering a constructive and viable alternative.

    The question is not, Who’s governor or president, but who is acting most like one? (even if they are not a candidate?)

  3. Robinia

    Beautiful post. What do great leaders tell us in times like this? One of my favorites is: “eyes on the prize.” The more we talk, write, repeat and disseminate the image of the governance we need, the more we breath life into it.

    Leave the fighting behind, work for tomorrow. Apres le coup, the forming of budget and policy. Joy of joy, the new governor is a data maven who likes humor, not power struggles.

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