Thursday, January 11, 2007

Will He Deliver?

Spitzer Promises: “Government That Places People’s Interest, Openness and Integrity First.” Question Is... Will He Deliver?

Invited by Andrew Cuomo to attend his inaugural, and the reception that followed, The Advocate opted to take up a position amongst several hundred honored guests at the New Year’s Day inaugural ceremonies, rather than covering the proceedings from the press platform. The rain had subsided before 11am and dozens of State maintenance workers were busy removing any trace of water from the enormous blue platform that now occupied the plaza in front of the State House, as well as from more than a thousand seats set out for honored guests and the People. The ceremony had been moved up one hour to 1pm.

The weather remained grey, and quite chilly, with enough of a breeze to wave the half dozen, or so, flags displayedby a well-rehearsed military color guard. Thoughts of William Henry Harrison, the president who caught pneumonia at his inaugural, and died within a month, emerged as Eliot Spitzer appeared for more than an hour without a coat. Granted, it was milder than anyone could reasonably have expected on New Year’s Day in the Capital District, but there was no sunshine, and everyone else, including his Lieutenant Governor David Patterson, and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, were cloaked in fulllength winter coats.

Much like John Fitzgerald Kennedy who broke with tradition 45 years earlier, coming to his inauguration without a hat, Spitzer came off as the young, brave hearted, crusader. In fact, at one point he nearly paraphrased Kennedy’s “ask not” statement telling those assembled, “ New Yorkers, from now on, ought not ask What’s in it for me? But rather, What’s in it for us?”

One could only wonder how George Pataki, who kept his back facing the throngs, as he repeatedly ran his fingers over his head to maintain his ‘comb-over’ in the breeze, must have felt when Spitzer said, “Like Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, New York State has slept through much of the last ten years as the World passed us by.” The new governor would then go on to quote Abraham Lincoln, telling his fellow New Yorkers, “We mustlisten to the better angels of our nature.” Albeit “Day One” rhetoric, Governor Eliot Spitzer was certainly telling the People what they needed to hear.

However, the big question is, “will he deliver?” Looking around it was clear that there was no shortage of party regulars, many seeking favors, and/or employment; the traditional ‘spoils system.’ Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have an exclusive on patronage. Both Eliot Spitzer, and Andrew Cuomo, must find the way to strike a workable balance, in the staffing of their offices, to not only satisfy the demands of those who ostensibly helped get them there, but also to bring on board the energy, experience, and talent that will get the job done.
Surely, his predecessor will not be a hard act to follow. And, unlike George Pataki, Eliot Spitzer does not need to grow rich in public office. He comes to the job a relatively wealthy man. We must take him at his word when says, “I pledge to toil each and every day so as not to disappoint our hard working citizens.” Let us hope that we will notbe disappointed!

Given the major problems confronting New York State, Governor Spitzer will need to “toil each and every day.” Most thinking New Yorkers are only too well aware of the issues that went too long neglected and mishandled under George Pataki, and that demand immediate attention. The short list includes:

• Public School Financing: Spitzer must devise a more honest and workable method by which to finance our public schools. The current system is broken.

• The Unified Court System: The Criminal, and the Matrimonial Parts are in desperate need of overhaul, as are the Family Courts. Currently there are two systems, one for the wealthy and influential, and another for the rest of us.

• Medicaid and Health Insurance: At $45 Billion Medicaid is a problem of alarming magnitude. At the same time affordable health insurance is increasingly difficult for working families to obtain.

• Affordable Housing: Providing ample, affordable housing, and the maintenance of fair returns to owners of residential development are a difficult, but necessary balance that must be achieved by state government.
Eliot Spitzer takes office under the weight of great expectation, given the high profile institutions, theStock Market, the Mutual Fund Industry, the Commercial Insurance Industry, that he successfully took on as Attorney General. Citizens must bear in mind that as Attorney General Mr. Spitzer carried the ‘big stick’ ofpossible prosecution, which was, no doubt, very persuasive in furthering the interests of the People. As governor he will need to employ far more persuasion, and far less intimidation. Of course, now that the governor and the attorney general are on the same team perhaps resolution of these daunting issues may be enhanced by a ‘tag-team’ approach. Time will tell.

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