the new boss: Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer at a rally
For a New New York
Albany Democrats, skeptical Republicans, cautious advocacy
groups and upstate politicians contemplate an Eliot Spitzer
You Believe in Day One?
Spitzer has a mandate from the people of New York state, and
that is an understatement. With nearly 70 percent of the vote,
Spitzer won the governorship by the largest majority of any
candidate in modern state history. The euphoria and hope surrounding
Spitzer are astounding, and now that he has been swept into
power the question remains: Can he possibly live up to expectations?
Can Spitzer fight the good fight as governor? Can he crack
the three-man-in-a-room system that has ruled Albany for years?
haven’t forgotten the promise of Spitzer’s campaign slogan:
“Day One, everything changes.” But is it a promise that is
to be believed?
Sen. Neil Breslin (D-Albany) certainly does. “My expectations
of the new governor are so high, I don’t think they could
be higher,” he says. “He is bright, honest and, most importantly,
he will always do the right thing. I think he will take on
the Legislature as he has taken on the stock market and the
does Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton: “When we talk about
everything changes Day One, I’m talking literally. I believe
Eliot will move to change things as quickly as possible.”
John McEneny (D-Albany), although hopeful, says reality may
make Spitzer’s promise more of a pipe dream.
will be some euphoria,” says McEneny. “After 12 years out
in the cold, it is always nice to get into the parlor, and
then we will see. When I look at Spitzer’s ads, my first thought
is, ‘I can’t wait for Day Two if we are going to change it
on Day One.’ And that’s great. I suppose if Wall Street is
booming, that might be possible. And what if it’s not? Who
are you going to blame it on? The Legislature doesn’t share
my vision or the economy doesn’t meet expectations? It could
involve a, ‘Sorry, I was overly optimistic.’ ”
for Spitzer has seemingly been a march toward coronation day.
Some state offices and bureaus have ground to a halt, with
heads waiting to see where Spitzer will lead them, wondering
if the ax will fall on their necks.
politicians and insiders have tried to cozy up to the Spitzer
camp, looking to be a part of what is assumed will be a powerful,
change-driven administration. As Stratton put it, “People
are supportive. People working for a Republican administration
are all of a sudden getting a change of heart. Some are trying
to convince us that they may be Democrats at heart. It is
part of the survival instinct. I think it is going to be interesting.
But it is similar to the massive change in 1995 when Pataki
was unexpectedly elected.”
remains: How much will really change in the immediate aftermath
of Spitzer’s storming of the governor’s mansion? According
to McEneny, one of the first, most noticeable changes may
be the makeup of the Legislature.
guy's sharp: Spitzer meets a young supporter
begin with the People magazine-type of approach,” he
says. “There will be a focus on the first family and the time
they spend in Albany. Stuff like that. Watching how the governor
conducts himself in a role he didn’t have before. And then
they will look at the personalities to go into the government.
Who is going to stay? Who is going to go? How many Assembly
people might be interested in leaving the Assembly to go into
the Sptizer administration? Who fills the jobs? Who leaves?
Then it will get heavier toward the third and fourth weeks
of January when it gets into the business of the budget and
fun things like that.”
agrees. “This is a changing of a 12-year regime. He is going
to go slowly. He won’t throw people into positions and kick
people out. He will be deliberate, thoughtful and pick good
people. Some will be surprised that the people he picks will
not all be Democrats. And then, come budget time, he will
have some serious, serious discussions with legislative leaders.”
to insiders, Spitzer’s handling of two recent scandals, first
the scandal involving Comptroller Alan Hevesi, then the DWI
charge against his campaign manager, has worried some in the
Democratic Party. Some think that Spitzer has reacted to these
scandals with swift righteousness in disregard to the actual
guilt of the accused. Spitzer reportedly reacted to the news
that his campaign manager Ryan Toohey was charged with DWI
by insisting Toohey would not be part of the transition team
and, reportedly, docking his pay.
say that Spitzer’s retraction of his endorsement of Hevesi
was quick and uncounseled, and that the retraction may have
started a rift between Spitzer and Democratic party heads,
including Assembly Majority Leader Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).
insists that Spitzer’s reactions have been, overall, reassuring.
also has been raging that the time Spitzer has spent helping
other campaigns because of his commanding lead in his own
race has drawn the ire of Republican leaders. According to
the New York Post, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno
(R-Brunswick) gave Spitzer a call to demand he stop campaigning
against Republican senators who may be in jeopardy. The Post
reported, “ ‘Bruno told Eliot that if he wants to have good
relations, he’s got to steer clear of both those races,’ said
a high-level Democratic official.”
very much doubts either majority leader plans on stonewalling
Spitzer. “I don’t think either house is going to dictate to
Governor Spitzer how they are going to handle things. I think
that Spitzer’s going to have a lot of say about how this state
does business, and I think if anyone underestimates him they
do it at their own peril.”
McEneny and Breslin do not see eye-to-eye with Spitzer on
one major issue, and that is the death penalty. “The death
penalty, to me . . . that’s a line in the sand. There are
no ‘Yeah, buts’ on that,” says McEneny.
of the legislators note there is disagreement within the party
on the issue and say there is plenty of time to come to common
there are areas of disagreement,” says Breslin. “But this
state is languishing, and he, by sheer force of will and mandate,
will change the way we do business. I’ve known him for 10
years, and he just always seems to do the right thing. He
has never disappointed me.”
A Changing Republican Role
scandals were plentiful during this election cycle, so when
reports surfaced alleging that the New York state comptroller—a
Democrat—misused taxpayer dollars, it breathed new life into
the state GOP. As the “Driving Mrs. Hevesi” scandal unraveled,
Republican leaders carefully monitored Eliot Spitzer’s reaction.
They stood ready, with harsh words and television advertisements,
to pounce on any action deemed a misstep.
than one week after the scandal broke, Spitzer defended Hevesi
during the first gubernatorial debate, calling the comptroller
“an honest, stupendous public servant.”
leaders view this initial support of Hevesi as grounds for
questioning Spitzer’s message of reform. “When he had an opportunity
to start Day One a little earlier, he didn’t do it,” says
John Nolan, chairman of the Saratoga County Republican Committee.
argument didn’t resonate with the majority of voters, however,
especially since Spitzer later withdrew his endorsement of
Hevesi and, in his role as attorney general, ordered the comptroller
to place an additional $90,000 in an escrow account pending
investigation. That’s above the thousands Hevesi had paid
to the state already.
of the governor-elect argue that Spitzer’s reactions to Hevesi
are yet another example of his ability to set aside partisan
politics in favor of justice, for which Spitzer has received
statewide popularity and acclaim. Although the public may
view Spitzer’s tenure as attorney general as one in which
he single-handedly revitalized the office, Nolan says Spitzer
may be “in for a rude awakening” if he tries to continue the
one-man act as governor.
got an awful lot to learn,” Nolan says. “He took on Wall Street
and supposedly he came away with their scalp, but can he do
that with the whole state and start going around intimidating
[Assembly Majority Leader Sheldon] Silver, intimidating [Senate
Majority Leader] Bruno? I don’t think so. He may be the governor,
and you certainly have to respect him for his position, but
that doesn’t mean the other two people have to give up their
particular role in government.”
sweep of top state positions on election night thrust Bruno
into a new informal title: The most powerful Republican in
New York state government. Although the net power of the Republican
Party has been deflated, Bruno may prove critical in keeping
afloat the Republican agenda as one of the “three men in a
the dynamics of the “room” and relationship between the three
men in it are certain to change. Whereas Bruno currently sits
across the table from a governor who is a fellow Republican,
he soon will find his party in the minority. GOP leaders can
only speculate about the effect that change will have on the
Senate’s power and the Republican agenda.
Maguire, spokesman and director of communications for the
Business Council of New York State, says his organization
is optimistic. He says the Business Council was encouraged
by how both Spitzer and John Faso made the concerns of the
business community priorities of their campaigns.
the traditionally right-leaning organization is most often
associated with the Republican agenda and GOP candidates,
Maguire generally has been supportive of Spitzer’s candidacy.
(He says the Business Council has maintained a strong working
relationship with Spitzer, in his role as attorney general.)
heartened by the fact that the campaign has been dominated,
to a significant extent, by these economic policy issues,”
Maguire says of Spitzer, specifically. “He has talked clearly
and consistently about our issues: about taxes, about creating
jobs, about costs of energy, about costs of health care.”
put too many issues on the table? Nolan says he’s skeptical
that Spitzer will be able to make good on all of his promises,
especially in the short time frame he’s proposed.
got some magic wand, it might work,” Nolan says.
are scratching their heads about the fiscal practicality of
such a large agenda, as well. Fixing New York’s school-funding
problems will take billions alone, says Nolan, who wonders
aloud where such large sums of money will be generated from,
especially if Spitzer plans to make good on his promise not
to raise taxes.
Long, chairman of the Conservative Party of New York State,
is more than skeptical of Spitzer’s promise to not raise taxes.
He insists Spitzer’s gubernatorial reign will include tax
honesty, I’m sure he’ll try to block tax cuts,” Long says,
also adding spending cuts and the creation of more charter
schools to the list of major issues he believes Spitzer will
avoid as governor.
is that the [Republican] Senate will become the watchdog for
the taxpayers of the state of New York,” Long says, “and will
force Eliot Spitzer’s hand to create economic growth, encourage
our young people to not move out of New York, and create and
encourage businesses to come here.”
Spitzer’s TV ads were shock-ing. This was not because they
were negative, but because they directly addressed one of
the main fears of New Yorkers: The state’s best days are in
the past. Spitzer would, he promised, bring back the glory
days of technological innovation and economic prosperity.
You might be tempted to dismiss this as Reaganesque showboating,
but you would be in the minority: A large majority of voters
took Spitzer at his word on election day—including millions
of people living upstate, in Central and Western New York,
or in the Southern Tier, where the economy is, frankly, in
folks in New York City, “upstate” is everything north of the
Bronx. Economically, however, “upstate” is almost everything
north and west of the Hudson Valley. And it’s doing badly,
from Schenectady to Buffalo, and from the Canadian border
to the Southern Tier cities of Binghamton and Jamestown. Most
of New York has been losing jobs and population for decades;
there are a few generations that have grown up without knowing
the “old” New York Spitzer referenced in his ads.
himself explains (in a position paper): “Look around our cities—especially
upstate—and you can see signs of distress. You find far too
many vacant lots, abandoned factories, boarded-up homes and
empty storefronts. . . . You know we have a problem when the
eight cities with the highest property tax rates in the entire
United States are located in Upstate New York.”
is ready for the attention, and eager for Spitzer to take
over. “With the election of Spitzer, there will be a new sheriff
in Albany. And he’s coming with a strong mandate from New
Yorkers for change.” That’s not a Democratic politician speaking—it’s
the editorial voice of Rochester’s Gannett daily, the Democrat
& Chronicle. They add that “much of that change must
focus on upstate New York, where too many people and jobs
are still leaving in droves.”
new focus and leadership,” the editorial concludes, “build
the new Empire State.”
about 70 miles southwest of Rochester, Hornell is a small
city of almost 9,000 people in mostly rural Steuben County.
It used to be an important transportation hub in the days
of the Erie Railroad; the former Erie shops are now used by
Alstom, the European railcar manufacturer.
mayor, Shawn D. Hogan, has held his job for 20 years. In fact,
he’s the longest-tenured mayor in the state. Hogan was also
an early supporter of Eliot Spitzer, and fully expects the
governor-elect to deliver on his campaign promises.
known Eliot Spitzer since 1995 or 1996.”
he lost in the 1994 Democratic attorney-general primary, and
Republican Dennis Vacco was elected in the general election,
Spitzer visited Democratic elected officials around the state.
When he visited Hogan, he explained his desire to run for
the attorney general’s office in 1998 and expressed his hopes
for the future of the state.
up right there. I said, ‘I’m in.’ ”
lining up Hogan’s support, Spitzer didn’t just disappear.
“He’s always kept in contact with me,” Hogan explains. Spitzer
visited Hornell a number of times over the last decade, the
mayor adds, always very interested in the local economy. This,
Hogan explains, is why Spitzer is so well-versed in upstate’s
problems, and why Spitzer’s briefly controversial comparison
of upstate to Appalachia rang so true.
when he said parts of New York were worse than Appalachia,”
Hogan says. “I remember when Bobby Kennedy helped get the
Southern Tier included in the Appalachian Regional Commission
in the 1960s. . . . And there was a hell of a lot more industry”
in the region then, he says. Spitzer’s recognition of the
obvious was, he says, “heartening.”
Hogan points out that, owing to the presence of Alstom and
the local businesses that supply it, Hornell has a relatively
vibrant economy. “It’s a bright spot in the Southern Tier.”
however, that the economic bright spots in Western New York
are few and far between and often attributable to luck or
[like me] can take some credit for our economic development
work,” he says, “but there can be a lot of luck involved.”
relates a telling story. Alstom was looking to expand its
operations and build the shells for its rail passenger cars
in the United States. It didn’t happen—the shells are manufactured
in Brazil and shipped to Hornell for assembly—but the company
didn’t even consider doing the work in Hornell. Alstom had
been looking at a location in Tennessee for the expansion
because New York’s energy costs are so high.
energy costs and high property taxes, making health care affordable,
and reforming the workman’s compensation system are just a
few of the problems Hogan lists as crippling upstate.
an ugly stew,” the mayor concludes. Spitzer, he says, is the
“one chef” to fix it.
and his staff are going to come up with a plan.”
is more than willing to give the governor-elect a chance.
As the Syracuse Post-Standard editorialized the morning
after the election: “Now comes the real challenge. . . . But
if the new governor is honest, open and accountable, and as
hard-working and effective as he was as attorney general—better
days are ahead for the resident of New York state.”