Gundersen gone from ESDC

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.

2 Replies to “Gundersen gone from ESDC”

  1. I would take issue with the idea that there is a “new, Downstate-and-Albany-oriented administration. I just happened to be in a conference on the 2nd floor of the Capitol today, listening to some administration officials, among others. There was a lot of really excellent work being highlighted to bring downstate eaters and upstate farmers together in a greener consumption pattern– and a far healthier one. Look for Paterson to keep the “1 NY” part of Spitzer’s early agenda (which actually was being used by Fiscal Policy Institute much earlier than that…)

    I think the Spitzer re-make of ESDC was dramatic, superficial and hasty, and then he threw money at it. Paterson is digging deep with change, and looking for wide public support doing it, too. Maybe extending past ESDC to the IDA system, also. This ad will start playing in your town tomorrow: http://blogs.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/7669

    Economic development reform can fit really smoothly into property tax relief efforts. NY needs a completely new approach.

    Dan was a great guy in a difficult, difficult position. There is no way that he could roll what he had been doing in with the entire re-make. Spitzer made a scotch of this, unfortunately. Give Paterson a chance to set it up to work better.

  2. I agree that Spitzer understood the shape of things more than the right way to address those things. Maybe that is the blessing and curse of being an outsider, or being one who doesn’t play well with others. I am more optimistic that someone like Paterson can make new ideas work.

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