Sunday, February 11, 2007

Spitzer's first 40 days with Legislature: Strategy or naivete?


All New Yorkers are rooting for Eliot to succeed and bring New York back to life...the million dollar question is...can Spitzer use his Attorney General Experience...his extremely successful ways of persuading people to do the right thing with Silver and Bruno and the legislature??? far Eliot is batting .500 ..not too shabby by baseball standards.........andy

ALBANY, N.Y. -- So, the big question in Albany these days is, Is Eliot Spitzer brilliant, or just nuts? The governor's very early record these first 40 days didn't lack for striking drama in a town whose gear shift has long been stuck in glacial. Some say the Democrat's bold treatment of the Legislature shows he's a legislative newbie who, like so many past governors, will be snared in the clutches of the powerful and well-protected body. Others say Spitzer is, as Rep. Charles Rangel once said in frustration, the "world's smartest man," plotting the only strategy that will shake things up.

Hanging in the balance are the reforms in government, ethics, spending, taxing and campaign financing that helped give Spitzer his record-setting election in November. Those reforms require the Legislature's support, either by compliance or compulsion. But as Spitzer said last week, those goals now "are simply not within our grasp." The Spitzer era began with some startling selections for his cabinet and some reform of the budget process. Even an insider said the administration seemed top heavy with aggressive Ivy League lawyers, many of them ex-prosecutors like Spitzer.

He also brought legislative leaders shoulder to shoulder on an ethics reform package they deemed historic but which good-government groups found tepid. Soon after and again shoulder to shoulder, Spitzer and legislative leaders agreed to create an expert panel of former comptrollers to recommend highly qualified finalists for a state comptroller to replace Democrat Alan Hevesi, who resigned amid scandal. But on Wednesday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver _ as leader of a joint legislative session empowered by the constitution _ chose one of his own, apparently solidifying his power while snubbing Spitzer. Spitzer called the Legislature's decision to choose an assemblyman _ Thomas DiNapoli _ a "stunning lack of integrity that is deeply troubling ... We have just witnessed an insiders' game of self-dealing that unfortunately confirms every New Yorker's worst fears and image of all that goes on in the Legislature of this state." Also last week, the candidate Spitzer helped in a special election cut the slim Republican majority in the Senate further, angering Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

Weeks earlier, Spitzer's attempt to broker a deal on campaign finance reform _ which good-government advocates say is the reform most in need _ was a non-starter for legislative leaders. But Spitzer has long insisted he isn't an Albany insider and won't play by their rules. But students of Spitzer know his track as governor so far has a familiar feel. As a two-term attorney general, Spitzer forced reforms on Wall Street, the insurance industry and in the environmental policies of the Bush administration that targeted concerns that languished for years. Spitzer's method often began with serious research and the detailing of a strategy before publicly blasting his targets _ often CEOs _ until the boards of directors agreed to reforms in mostly amicable settlements. Often, Spitzer then praised the company as a leader of best practices in the industry. But as Spitzer's critics say now, he doesn't have subpoena power or the threat of putting the Legislature out of business. But he still sees a board of directors: Last week he took his measures and reforms on a statewide tour. He attracted support, like the New York Daily News editorial that said the Legislature used a "rigged process" to choose a comptroller who now is "a poster boy for Albany dysfunction."

"In some of this, I think he's right," said political science Professor Robert McClure of Syracuse University's Maxwell School. "His position is a position that I think is considered and probably in the best interest of the state ... but his statements signal what I worry may be a serious character flaw, and perhaps a political flaw. "His statements are over the top," McClure said. "I have every reason to believe he's a very smart man. At some level, even if this is a brilliant Machiavellian strategy, I'm worried about the Machiavelli part of it." McClure notes that major reform usually requires a huge "jolt." Nationally, think Depression or a world war. Perhaps, McClure said, Spitzer is trying to do that in Albany. "Now you have everything dislodged and all the moving parts are in play," McClure said. "The governor seems to think he is the center of things and he can make it happen. That may or may not be healthy or accurate, but I am doubtful of both."

So how does Spitzer fare from here? More importantly, what happens to the reforms championed in his campaign? The tactic didn't work in the early years of Republican Gov. George Pataki, where an attempt to erode Silver's support among more conservative Democratic assemblymen backfired and made Silver a powerful foe, said a former Pataki aide. Some say Spitzer _ a Democrat in a Democratic state with lawmakers eager to share his popularity _ missed an opportunity. He came to the table with all billiards balls hanging on the lip, but seems to have knocked them all back into a tight bunch, making it harder to run the table. "Eliot Spitzer seems to have made this a public relations battle," said Roger Stone, former adviser to Independence governor candidate B. Thomas Golisano who had also promised to shake up Albany. "Other than demonizing the Legislature, where does it get you?" "I sometimes think the reason we have political figures shouting ... is because the forces arrayed against change are increasingly more formidable," said McClure. "We yell at them in hopes that by raising the voice, we can budge 'em ... but my mother always said, `Bobby, there are things you can say in private and there are things you can say in public."'

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