Dan Gundersen fell on his sword for Gov. Paterson yesterday, as Buffalo banker (and former NYC deputy finance commissioner) Robert Wilmers was named the new “voluntary chair” (unpaid) of the Empire State Development Corp.
Gundersen, like Eliot Spitzer, was a political outsider (hailing from Pennsylvania). And because Spitzer also took the revolutionary (and correct) view that “Upstate” is now economically west and north of Albany and the Hudson, Gundersen probably didn’t have any defenders in the new, Downstate-and-Albany-oriented administration. I don’t believe Gundersen wanted to go, and few Upstate business players wanted him to go, but I’m sure he knew the writing was on the wall.
The important issue was never Gundersen himself, and not even really the idea of a Buffalo ESDC office; but rather the again revolutionary (but perhaps not correct) notion that Upstate needed an economic point man with authority equal to that of the traditionally Downstate chair. Wilmers appears well-regarded by people in both economies — and let’s not call them “regions” any more, but “economies,” since they are so disastrously distinct from one another. And maybe Spitzer’s radical approach to Upstate’s economy was wrong, or at least, politically unviable. But we wouldn’t have Wilmers today if Spitzer hadn’t done what he did. His approach gave a lot of Upstaters the hope and the voice to make their will known, once Gundersen was put on the chopping block. Otherwise, we probably would be greeting the usual Downstate- or Albany-based hack. Maybe we still will have one — it depends on how much power and energy Wilmers has in this job to select people who are serious.
Thanks, Dan — and thanks, Eliot.