Category Archives: Day One and Counting

Eliot and I

I was in a meeting today when Spitzer resigned, and I’m glad. I think it would have been too sad to watch. So many hopes were pinned on him. He seemed to embody everything that was good and great about New York. It didn’t matter what part of the state you were from; he was supposed to be an Uber-Governor, the Great Reformer who would vanquish the Boss, and every tough word made voters’ hearts thrill a little bit – even when he seemed to be down. Spitzer was going to scatter the wrongdoers with his mighty arm, and New York was going to come back and be great again.

He and the people of New York had an understanding, one that was going to elevate both him and us. How rare and special that kind of understanding is. Or was. Or wasn’t.

Now that he’s gone, it’s not just a political career that has been ruined, not just an individual’s ego perhaps deflated, but in a way, the self-perception of New Yorkers as leaders and progressives may have deflated a little, as well. (I mean “progressive” in the old-fashioned sense it was used in the 19th century — industrially as well as socially.) This is why Spitzer was elected so handily. He didn’t have to make speeches or really sell himself: he himself was the speech.

Even before Monday’s bombshell, it was clear that things weren’t working out as everyone had hoped. There was last year’s Choppergate ethics scandal, and all of the infuriating political shenanigans attached; and his failure with the immigrant licensing issue. Those were the big things, but there were so many little things that went wrong, or off tracks, or just… “off.” I think back hard for a high point. State of the Upstate speech?

Initially, in 2005, it was Tom Suozzi who attracted my interest as a potential candidate for governor, even though Spitzer was already being highly touted, with even Chuck Schumer stepping out of his way. It was Suozzi, however, who had seized the issue of reform (in his clumsy way) early on. In any other year, Suozzi would have been a formidable candidate. He was too much in bed with the Conservative Party for my tastes, and had his own ethical baggage, but when he decided to primary Spitzer, I thought it was good. The richness and depth of New York’s political field offered ample opportunity for Spitzer to sharpen his all-important message and focus on the state’s tremendous problems before he even entered office. Suozzi’s presence in the race could only help shape Spitzer’s future greatness.

But Spitzer persistently refused to debate Suozzi, only giving in after Suozzi just wouldn’t drop it. After all, what did Spitzer need with debates when his poll numbers were so overwhelmingly secure? Upstaters only got to see one of these debates – at least, one that involved both candidates. It was a disappointment, and I consoled myself by voting for Suozzi and pretending I was sending Spitzer a little message. Cute, I know. But Spitzer was not the kind of guy who was capable of sensing such faint messages from the hinterlands. When it came to matters not involving political pugilism, he apparently lived by the poll, even when he could have lived a fuller political life past them. (He died by them, too.)

When Spitzer was due to choose a running mate, there was some idea that he might choose a woman, or maybe even an Upstater for balance. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was a tantalizing possibility. But not only did he not pick an Upstater, his choice was (to me) doubly puzzling and disappointing. Why would he steal away Dave Paterson from the Senate? Paterson was supposed to become our Majority Leader, the successor to Bruno in the epic battle that Spitzer would personally lead on a white charger. Later, I understood why. It was more about positioning Paterson to be appointed to Hillary Clinton’s job in 2008, once Hillary won the presidency, as she no doubt handily would. All ducks neatly in a row. The great work of a hero, it appeared, didn’t have anything to do with our little hopes for symbolic acknowledgement.

When Spitzer was elected, up went a transition website soliciting resumes from hopefuls all across New York. It was to reach out in a bipartisan manner to people from all over the state and even the country, in hopes of breaking Albany’s hold on such jobs. But the website’s submission form, apparently cribbed in haste from another website, also had a field for “Where would you be willing to relocate to…” with India and North Carolina as some of the choices. Those of us who noticed it had a good laugh, but…

Spitzer also had another website. It was called Spitzer 2010. What about Spitzer Today? I recall wondering.

I remember attending a Spitzer speech on saving cities, before the election. I was trying to get a feel for his ideas and rhetoric, what sort of inspiring inaugural speech he might give us, what grasp of imagery he had, what fresh ideas for Syracuse he might have. It felt like a very wonky speech, without much new in it. I thought this was just a style we would have to get used to, and wait and watch harder for the breaks of light in the rhetorical clouds. But those breaks of light never really came.

Spitzer, as governor, made the rounds of Upstate cities and to Syracuse. What ideas would he bring with him beyond the usual promises of aid and gifts? What was our role in his master plan? But nothing new was unveiled; he just met with local movers and shakers, proclaimed their pre-existing plans good — plans that didn’t always enthuse local alternative thinkers. “Right… carry on.” He also hired an “Upstate Czar,” something which appeared to be a good idea, and still does I suppose (I wonder what will become of Dan Gundersen now?). But I couldn’t help feeling that whenever Spitzer came here, he was not really paying attention. Of course he couldn’t; this is a huge state; but…

And the little disappointments unfolded against a constant state of war.

Hope after hope, continued waiting and hoping, and little disappointments here and there. And questions floating in, vague wonderings if Spitzer really “got it.” Of course he did. How could he not? All one needed to do was wait just a little while longer.

We had an understanding, Eliot and I.

New York’s budget: Hoo coodanode?

Let’s do one last check of the math on Gov. Spitzer’s budget… Oops, sorry! We’re $384 million short.

While the changes represent a small fraction of New York’s $124 billion budget, they are a sign of how rapidly shifting economic forecasts are causing havoc with the state’s fiscal planning. It is rare for a governor to second-guess his own budget, especially so soon after releasing it.

Over at Calculated Risk, a well-known investors’ blog, there’s a popular sarcastic catchphrase, hoo coodanode. As in, “Who coulda knowed” that the housing bubble was going to burst? Or that subprime would blow up like it has? Or all the problems that would happen?

New York’s not the only state getting a sudden lump in its throat over its budget, but of all states, you’d think New York — and most particularly Spitzer, the Terror of Wall Street — coodanode.

It’s a beautiful day for a budget

The stock market is about to seriously tank, but what of that? Gov. Spitzer releases his budget today. I just wonder if anyone in Albany will have time to read it while they are on the phone with their brokers.

Updated: Details of the budget. (Think we’ll get a budget passed on time this year?) A quote from the synopsis:

The 2008-09 Executive Budget includes $81.8 billion in State Operating Funds spending, an increase of 5.0 percent compared to 2007-08. This is consistent with Governor Spitzer’s goal of limiting pending growth to below 5.3 percent, which is the average long-term rate of personal income growth in New York – and the best measure of affordability.

What does “long-term rate” mean here, exactly? Five years? Ten years? Twenty? (And is that “personal income growth” adjusted for cost of living increases?) Just saying, this sounds like a nice formula but I’m not sure what it really means. Can anyone explain?

And some thoughts from Simon at Living in Dryden about NYC’s economic situation.

The reviews are in

Philip Anderson at TAP has a nice roundup of editorials on Spitzer’s historic “State of the Upstate” speech.

If you missed the speech, you can watch it or read it here.

I really do agree that Spitzer’s harking back to the bad old days of NYC in the ’70s was a brilliant rhetorical move. Now this is more like it.

Other reactions on the plan (if not the speech)…

BuffaloPundit: Spitzer on Day One of Year Two

Fault Lines: “I Want, I Want, I Want” . . .but What Do We Need?

Living in Dryden: One New York

Lest we bask too much in the warm fuzzies of unity, here’s some good old upstate-downstate sniping for you, courtesy of the Buffalo News.

And a crapload of commentary links from Knickerbocker Blog, formerly known as Let Upstate Be Upstate.

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.