Eliot Spitzer isn’t the Great Pumpkin these days, so much as he is Ichabod Crane. As the emboldened GOP hurls flaming dittoheads at him over his plan to issue driver’s licenses to immigrants (illegal or non), Spitzer has galloped blindly through the corn maze, now voicing support for the federal Real ID, which gives his pro-immigrant supporters a fright. Here’s what gives me the night terrors (as reported in this AP story):

The Bush administration and New York cut a deal Saturday to create a new generation of super-secure driver’s licenses for U.S. citizens, but also allow illegal immigrants to get a version.

And it echoes in the brain…

The Bush administration and New York cut a deal Saturday… The Bush administration and New York cut a deal… cut a deal… cut a deal…

That’s when where I sit upright in bed shrieking, thinking about NYRI and about the Great Lakes.

But lost in all of the outraged posturing over the issue is whether or not Spitzer ever tried to sell his plan on immigrant ID to the people of New York at all. Dare I ask if Spitzer knows what he’s doing? It’s obvious by now that the man is not a prophet, which is OK. But he’s not a salesman either, which is not OK if he hopes to steer the ship of state. When you remember how easily Spitzer rode in last year, you begin to understand why he’s having such difficulty understanding that he’s got to do one or the other of those things. After all, it’s not like he even had to sell himself to the people of New York. This time, he not only failed to sell his idea, but he failed to awaken New Yorkers on why this should be an issue at all. (I’m beginning to view my primary vote for Tom Suozzi with a little more nostalgia. At least he had a semblance of a “Fix Albany” sales campaign.)

Where Spitzer’s plans for Upstate are concerned, specifically Syracuse… “$20 million for one project?” wonders the Post-Standard’s Dick Case. But why that amount particularly? Why not $15 million, or even $40 million? It’s so arbitrary. Don’t get me wrong — I still thank God that Spitzer hasn’t shown up here with a Richard Florida book in his hand, but does anyone get the feeling he really hasn’t thought about Syracuse all that hard? (See also: Frank Cammuso’s cartoon.)

13 thoughts on “Boo!

  1. JS

    Oh man, I agree about Suozzi. Too bad state government isn’t more like Little League or Big League baseball, where you can bench the starter in the 3rd inning or so, after the other team (Bruno) hits a few lead off home runs (a guy who should be home running his oddly profitable horse (cash-cow) business)…he starts tossing balls and wild pitches right and left.

    About the $20 million…that seems completely arbitrary, and not a done deal either, at least according to a few members of the Legislature who openly wonder whether they will vote to approve his gifts. The timing of all this seems odd too, like a “hey here’s $20 million to look the other way about the whole driver’s license and voter disenfranchisement thing… what do ya think!?”

    And worse, that $20 million is GOING TO BELIEVERS OF RICHARD FLORIDA…

    No wonder fans are leaving the ballpark early. It was all pre-season hype.

  2. Ellen Post author

    Speaking of our friend Richard Florida, he hasn’t gone away:

    Apparently, he wants to turn us all into a big region called TorrBuffChester. A lot of what he says here is interesting, and he does not spout on about the Creative Class (now he’s talking about harnessing “the full creative potential of every person,”) but I’m still wary of the guy.

  3. JS

    Hah, I thought you were joking about “TorrBuffChester”.

    I’m past wary of him, beyond weary, and am hoping his self-idealized form of inanity will just go away!

    Almost any city is great for the wealthy and self-absorbed. How can somebody not enjoy free take out from the economically-disadvantaged minorities that are installing your home’s sound system!? Especially when you have the “opportunity to run a pioneering think tank at a renowned business school”!!

    So he says, cheer up…”Here’s all the validation you need, Toronto: Our city is on the leading edge of a critical change in the global economy.” Why?! Because he only later “realized how on-target that [his] initial suggestion had been”!! Of course, he was so visionary that he couldn’t even recognize the boundlessness of his foresight at first!

    So, if your Mega-region seems too puny or downtrodden, no worries, just annex Chicago or Philly, whatever makes YOU happy. Nevermind the plight of actual-family farmers in America, or Central America, caused by the WTO and GATT. It’s just the price to pay, to create multinational “Mega-regions”. I mean…somebody’s gotta install the home sound systems and deliver the take out!

    Seriously…I’d go with Wendell Berry over Richard Florida any day…Berry emphasizes that “Good Solutions”, “exist only in proof and are not to be expected from absentee owners or absentee experts”, and that “problems must be solved in work and in place, with particular knowledge, fidelity and care, by people who will suffer the consequences from their mistakes. There is no theoretical or ideal practice. Practical advice or direction from people who have no practice may have some value, but its value is questionable and limited.”

    How can anybody be a greater expert on a particular community than a resident who lives it every day, over decades and a lifetime?

    Florida’s arrogant…whatever. Worse is that he’s just wrong and communities take his advice. Never mind that ecological issues are emerging that will destroy these global trade routes…

  4. sean

    i’ll take jane jacobs.

    nyco, that is one grotesque pumpkin (isn’t that what linus waited for in the pumpkin patch). did you take that picture? talk about summarizing albany …

  5. JS

    Definitely on Jane Jacobs…her “Dark Age Ahead” book was straightforwardly awesome, and even described the mistakes in perspective that created elevated highway overpasses. She could have been writing about Syracuse.

    Somehow I don’t think Richard Florida would cede to Jacob’s wisdom, even if he cited her wisdom.

  6. Ellen

    Mrs. M: Thanks for the laugh!

    Sean: I was going to ask you who Jane Jacobs is, but then I just Wikipedia’d her. So I’d like to ask you what your take is on this (from her Wikipedia entry which may or may not be telling the whole story):

    “Jacobs was an advocate of a Province of Toronto to separate the city proper from Ontario. Jacobs said, ‘Cities, to thrive in the 21st century, must separate themselves politically from their surrounding areas.'”

    What do you think of this, in light of the idea that we need to erase – or at least cross – boundaries between city and county here in the Syracuse metro area?

    JS: That does it, for my next Halloween costume I’m going as Richard Florida. You might be interested in this article about the keynote speaker coming to that “Upstate Writing the City” conference next month. (I’m continually aware of this event if only because there’s a big poster for it in my office building)

    I read this interview and think she has a lot of astute things to say and yet… I wonder how she really feels about the globalization process and gentrification and the accentuation of haves and have-nots. Just a slightly unnerved feeling at what all these experts say; they hardly ever say what cities are closest to THEIR hearts.

    Re the pumpkin photo: No I regret that is not my work – it’s this photo I’ve had on my hard drive forever and I see it on websites all the time. These “barfing pumpkins” are becoming more popular at Halloween, it looks like.

  7. honkcronk

    Down here in Bingoland, I have not heard any proposals out of albany that will revive the city of Binghamton or the surrounding area — “greater Binghamton”.

    The whole driver’s license thing is becoming one big joke to me. So, how many illegal aliens would be willing to go take a driving test after hearing that the counties are against issuing the licenses? Can you picture the “illegal” going to the official DMV testing site and seeing the happy face of the employee that will test them on a 3 point turn and parallel parking?

    The whole thing is really about issuing New Yorkers a new and “improved” license. It would be one we could all use to cross the border into Canada and still be allowed to return. It would be harder to counterfeit than the ones we have now. Is it a license or an ID card? Maybe just a line is needed ** allowed to operate a motor vehicle** to clarify the difference.

    I love my current NY driver’s license. I lost one and went down on a summer day and had my picture retaken. For some reason, the person was willing to try to make me look good — better than I think I look in real life. What a picture. My hair was summer blonde and I sported a good tan. That was about 9 years ago and I think I look young and healthy (at least as compared to today)

    What bullshit issuing me another license so I can go to Canada. I will take my lousy passport picture if I have to cross over to our northern neighbors. Please done f**k with my nice photo. But I know they will.

    And they will charge me double or triple — and I will have to pay for our new security that we get from having new secure id cards (or whatever they are).

    And the picture will look more like my passport.

    And when are they going to include the fingerprints???

    Yes, Eliot will keep negotiating with the Bush administration. Maybe we can get a little more homeland security funds directed our way to help pay for our new drivers licenses.

    And Eliot will keep the DMV offices open in Greater Binghamton -and call it economic development when a couple more jobs are created to handle all the new crowds of illegals.

  8. sean

    i honestly can’t say i know the basis for jacobs’ comments in that context, although one point i would venture is that toronto IS metropolitan … so her suggestion would be more akin to removing, say, erie county from new york state (so it could become part of “torbuffchester?”)

    but my loyalty to jacobs is based more on her early recognition, even before many of the wrecking balls flew, of the damage that would come from urban renewal and the whole robert moses ideal… and her dead-on recognition that the real magic of cities came far more from the smallest things … the human compact, the bustling marketplace, the sidewalk energy. imagine if planners in syracuse and buffalo and rochester had been listening to that kind of prophecy in 1960, when flight was just a trickle, when the cities were still vibrant … instead of trying frantically to recall those qualities 47 years late, often by repeating the same mistakes.


  9. JS

    Haha, yeah Richard Florida is really scary, especially to grown-ups, but I wonder about children asking their parents, “Mom, Dad, will I grow up to be in the Creative Class!?” I’ll definitely check that interview out.

    About Jacobs and Toronto, her book “Dark Age Ahead” goes through her thinking as to why. It’s an awesome read, and short. I don’t remember all of her argument, but she writes about “subsidarity”, the principle that government works best when it is closest to the people it serves and the needs it addresses. She also talks about fiscal accountability, describing it as governments collecting and disbursing tax dollars work most responsibly when they are transparent to those providing the money.

    She traces the undermining of these principles as a Dark Age pattern, evidence of cultural and a state’s decline, going back to Rome.

    About Toronto, she writes about how the dumbed-down use of taxes, and dumbed-down use of powers that make taxes possible, impose deterioration, and how fast this happens once underway. Basically she claimed that social and economic needs of urban residents are extremely varied and complex, but once functionaries and beaurocrats in distant institutions try to devise programs, they disregard particulars and the uniqueness of the city, on the assumption that one size fits all. These distant governments must act as if common denominators exist, which means idiosyncratic needs and unique opportunities go ignored.

    She wrote about how federal and provincial governments misfunded the public transit system, so that expenses increased and investment went only to a few, badly chosen lines with little ridership, how the provincial government destroyed innovation in Toronto’s affordable housing efforts, how the Toronto public school system was stripped of funding, how community groups were charged big fees to use school property for community events…

    She talks about the neoconservative movement, having an implicit assumption that each public service or amenity must earn its own keep, that schools must pay for themselves (leading to contracts with Coke or Pepsi, etc.), that hospitals, transit systems and orchestras must prove their existence by financial profitability.

    And then, a new, additional layer of government, the Metro, was designed to coordinate city with its inner suburbs. It was rigged so that the city was outvoted by the “car-dependent and community-deficient” suburban subcultures. So these parts fought about stuff like public transit, with outer residents winning by insisting that the transit system itself bear the costs to run to outer areas (which forced city transit to subsidize costly, low-ridership suburban routes).

    I would guess she felt that destroying subsidarity and fiscal accountability meant government more distant from the people they supposedly serve. This led governments to offer one-size-fit-all solutions, which meant death to innovation, which she says “death to innovation is death to economic and social development.”

    Kinda rambling but that’s what I remember…she definitely goes into greater detail in the book, and as I read it, I remember thinking throughout it, that Syracuse could benefit greatly from her wisdom.

    That brings to mind…NYRI, how our city funds economic projects in backroom treehouse meetings, Prince Eliot’s seemingly arbitrary $20 million dollar gift to Syracuse (Camuso’s cartoon).

    It all fits certain patterns, which Jacobs calls “Dark Age” Patterns. She felt we were in that sort of positive feedback loop, on the edge of slipping into a Dark Age. She wrote the book, to hopefully reverse this “downward descent”.

  10. Robinia

    Great thread! Reading Jane Jacobs has certainly profoundly influenced my thinking and professional development. Nice to see so much appreciation of her more recent work here– I actually really appreciate her earlier work, too.

    I gather things must have gone just very poorly for Richard Florida in Syracuse; think you folks are a little hard on him, though.

  11. sean

    wow! thanks for the jacobs synopsis. that sums it up – and really brings out what a lot of folks see as the dangers of a metro government. the problem is, if the city is so short on money it can barely run as an institution, what are the choices?


  12. JS

    Jacobs is Wow! I checked out my notes that I took while reading her book, and a few of her quotes jumped out:

    “greed becomes a substitute for competence”, in the context of cutting school programs for the arts, taxing community groups to use schools, and poorly designing schools…this all leads to “the destruction of cultural capital”.

    About Toronto’s consolidation, she writes, “standardization is the parent of stagnation” and “perhaps the greatest mistake for any culture is to pass itselff on through principles of efficiency.” I’d guess, she means that efficiency destroys cultural uniqueness, because “when a culture is rich enough and inherently complex enough to afford a redundancy of nurturers, but eliminates them as an extravagance or loses their cultural services through heedlessness of being lost, the consequence is self-inflicted cultural genocide.”

    She talks about how “falsities feed arrogance” and “invisibility is the enemy of good and compatible with hubris”. She used Enron and how the facts and circumstances of war are invisible to the American people.

    And how any “culture that dumps the values that gave it competence, adaptability, and identity becomes weak and hollow”, to avoid this…”cultures must tenaciously retain the underlying values that were responsible for their success.” Sounds like a strong argument to preserve a City’s history, to remember from where we came.

    The book is a fast and really awesome read. She also writes about the misperception of “traffic engineers” and elevated highways. She said that universities are “perpetuating a fraud upon students and upon the public when they award credentials for this supposed expertise.” And then she gave concrete examples to prove this claim!

    About elevated highways running through and to downtowns, she writes that the mistake that traffic “engineers” make is in asking “How can people reach a macro-destination, downtown, most speedily?” instead of asking, “How can we help this great diversity of users reach their great diversity of micro-destinations most directly?”

    The book contains just a ton more of really excellent thinking when it comes to cities.

    And Robinia…why too hard on Richard Florida? If anything, I would guess than Jane Jacobs would be among his harshest critics?

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