Friday, February 23, 2007

Spitzer mood gentler, but mission isn't

The Buffalo News DONN ESMONDE

or....the many faces of Eliot :-) andy

The man who sat in Mary Kinney's living room Wednesday was not the fire-breathing scourge of Wall Street cheaters. He was not the got-mad, get-even public crusader hoisting the names of state lawmakers who had wronged him. He was not spitting-mad Spitzer, exacting retribution on disloyal Democrats who had nuked his choice for state comptroller.
No, the special guest in the Kinneys' home was Just Eliot, the bright but folksy man of the common folk, defender of the overtaxed and the underserved.
In recent weeks, we have seen two sides of the new, reform-preaching governor. In the next four years, expect to see a lot more of both. His good cop/bad cop extremes prompted one critic to dub him a Jekyll/Hyde character.
Public shaming - whether you are a Wall Street CEO or a follow-the-party-leader state legislator - is a big hammer. Spitzer pulled it out of his toolbox two weeks ago, naming names of turncoat Democratic lawmakers as he traveled the state.
The media salivated over the rare politician who violated the unwritten Albany code of self-protection. Democrat or Republican, they play the same Albany game, enjoy the same comforts and perks that come with going along. Had a snowstorm not postponed his visit here last week, local Democratic Assembly members Francine DelMonte, Sam Hoyt, Mark Schroeder, Dennis Gabryszak, Bill Parment, Robin Schimminger and Crystal Peoples might have felt the sting of his verbal lash.
Spitzer named about a dozen names before relenting. But scores of Spitzer-opposing lawmakers duck-and-covered. His message: Mess with me, and I will embarrass you in front of the people whose votes you need. Keep it up, and I may - by finding a reformer to challenge you and backing that candidate - try to have your job taken away. "If genuine reform candidates are out there," Spitzer said, "I'll be for genuine reform, rather than reform when it's easy."
Message received. State legislators usually flock to any ribbon-cutting, elbowing for position in front of TV cameras like hockey players battling for a puck. Yet when Spitzer on Wednesday announced a 650-job spike at Citigroup, no state legislator - there are 18 locally - showed up. Given recent animosities, they would have been distractions or targets. Not that they were missed. It was like a picnic without the ants.
Spitzer now is in helpful Dr. Jekyll mode. Talking about the "public good" is good, but it sounds like you are fighting for a nebulous blob instead of for millions of real people. Spitzer lately is visiting the homes of ordinary folks - 70 percent of whom voted for him - to drink coffee and talk tax cuts. It is a smart move that puts a human face and voice to the tax-crushing, business-discouraging burden that Albany's laws and giveaways put on people.
Spitzer, sitting on the Kinneys' living room couch, said New York's multiple governments take about $1,300 in taxes of every $10,000 we make. Added Mrs. Kinney, the voice of the people: "That's a lot, if you're only making $20,000."
Expect the close-to-folks approach from a Teddy Roosevelt-style progressive. Spitzer doesn't want to injure Albany; he wants to heal it. He believes in government - in its power to protect people from the abuses of capitalism, or from the out-of-touch, people-last subculture of Albany. The guy who, as attorney general, took on Wall Street behemoth Merrill Lynch will not cower in front of Joe Bruno or Shelly Silver. And, as he did with Wall Street, any deals will be made on his terms.
That's how it will go for those who talk reform but throttle change. Spitzer can be friend or foe, Jekyll or Hyde. State lawmakers have a choice: Change their ways or unleash Spitzer's inner Hyde.

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