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Appalachian Apple Knockers
March 24, 2006: First, take one New York State Attorney General with gubernatorial ambitions. Marinate until election day in an office in the state capital of Albany. (Be sure the office is locked. Crime is as nasty in Albany as in other upstate cities.) Meanwhile, send out invitations to voters saying a reformer will be served. Who will not only turn government business-as-usual into a model of transparency and fairness, but will lift upstate New York out of its present condition. Which according to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (the man in the marinade) is like unto Appalachia.

Spitzer made the comparison on March 12th, in a speech on the upper West Side of Manhattan. Visions of bare foot illiterate upstate New Yorkers, dressed in flour sacks and ravaged by pellagra, must have danced in the audience's collective head. Lawdy Lawdy! Are anti-poverty warriors already boarding buses for Schenectady, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo? Will they be teachin' folks in them thar hills to read and write? Larnin' them how to vote? Let's just hope the warriors bring plenty of orange juice. Not just because of the pellagra. Moonshine and OJ make a mean Screwdriver.

The warriors won't be going to Albany-- since Eliot Spitzer described Appalachian New York as starting 5 miles west of the capital city. ("If you drive from Schenectady to Niagara Falls, you'll see an economy that's devastated. It looks like Appalachia.") Strange considering Albany is where Spitzer hangs. You think he'd have noticed the ghettos and deteriorating blue collar neighborhoods, violent schools, booming drug trade and mired underclass. Long gone manufacturing jobs are harder to see, but empty industrial buildings speak vividly. Just as they do in the cities of Schenectady, Utica, Syracuse, etc.

Some might argue Spitzer is blind to Appalachian Albany because he spends his time in the government-centric part of the city. Where state workers in the thousands were relocated by Governor George Pataki. Sucked from suburban office parks and dropped into downtown sheet rock monoliths built by politically connected developers with lashings of public money. (The great suck-up was part of the "Albany Plan".) Yet concerned residents of Albany's slums and deteriorating nabes have met with Attorney General Spitzer and described the drug dealing, violence, etc. Some even detailed their perceptions of official neglect by the administration of Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings. Spitzer has also appeared with Mayor Jennings at crime fighting press conferences to announce crime fighting programs and grants. So he must know Albany's Appalachian score.

Oh. Wait. When Jennings ran for re-election (4th term) last year, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer endorsed him. Citing, among other things, Jennings's success re crime fighting. Maybe Spitzer is clueless.

Though one can go back and forth on what Eliot Spitzer knows-- or doesn't know-- about Appalachian Albany, his time spent in the walled city of downtown has obviously convinced him the answer to upstate's economic problems is taxpayer jacked real estate. In his Appalachian speech, Spitzer described his plans to "revitalize upstate cities by revamping downtown areas and creating statewide programs for residential developments".*

Many NYC residents have little idea what upstate New York is like. They don't realize that from 1990 to 2004, its population grew by only one percent, and that there's a tremendous outflow of young people. Hence, audience members at the Appalachian speech probably didn't ask AG Spitzer who will fill the revamped downtowns and residential developments created by statewide programs. Will a much desired, but yet to be realized, influx of high tech ubermensch do the trick? If the influx arrives, will their numbers be enuff to repopulate every Appalachian city? Furthermore, crime, cruddy schools, and ossified municipal governments continue to cause upstate cities to empty into the suburbs. Downtown Albany for example, only bustles consistently during office hours when state workers are in town. Are there other populations who can be dragooned into filling the other Main Streets? Or does taxpayer supported real estate, unhinged from the reality of the cooling market, make actual residents and businesses unnecessary?

As for the first question, there may still be some indigent people (preferably substance addicted or mentally ill) left in Manhattan. Or parolees looking to start a new life in a region with minuscule job growth and a thriving drug scene. Upstate has already absorbed a lot of NYC's human cast-offs, but HUD bucked slum-lording and Medicaid gouging continue to be an attractive source of Appalachian income. Re the second question, properties built, revamped, or mortgaged with tax dollars are crony gold mines regardless of the market; they can be rebuilt, re-revamped, and flipped more easily than ones filled with genuine residents.

The Spitzer family wealth is based in Manhattan real estate. According to state campaign finance records, a number of prominent NYC developers are major political contributors to Eliot Spitzer. On March 21st, he received the endorsement of the Building and Trade Council in the Appalachian city of Rochester. In general, the construction biz is behind Spitzer. Related unions also seem so. Understandably. Construction is one of the last sources of unionized, good paying blue collar jobs. Particularly in upstate New York. Where globalization has sucked the industrial life out of cities and counties.

If wannabe Governor Eliot Spitzer really thinks upstate is so Appalachian, perhaps he should vow to revive the region as a manufacturing center. Rather than continuing down the Pataki path of making it an exercise in taxpayer supported, unreal real estate. Spitzer could also promise to improve the business and residential climate by cutting taxes across the board and pruning the forest of petty-fogging state regulations. As opposed to the selective, crony cozy transfers of income and lifting of regulations that passed for tax reform and economic development policy under the reign of Governor Pataki. People leave upstate New York because of the lack of opportunity and high taxes. They also leave because they believe the political culture is antidemocratic and corrupt.

Which leads to Eliot Spitzer as reformer. During the Pataki administration, Attorney General Spitzer was a limp biscuit when it came to government business-as-usual. Sure, some stern words were spoken. (Remember NYRA's "culture of corruption"?) A few wrists got slapped. A little legislation was pushed. But while Spitzer may have been the Sheriff of Wall Street, when it came to going after the dodgy deals of state agencies and authorities, quasi-public development corporations, and clout heavy politicians, he was more like Deputy Dawg.

On the cartoon front, check the political response to Spitzer's Appalachia comments. Some pols and boosters have taken umbrage. Others seem to sniff the scent of fresh pork rinds on what they think is the inevitable wind. Even upstate pols who've touted the revitalizing power of Pataki and huffed when discouraging words were heard, have stepped up to justify the Appalachian analogy. Including state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno of Rensselaer County. As for Albany, if Attorney General Eliot Spitzer does get served in the governor's office, the elevation might give him a better view of the city's Appalachian aspects. Besides, when it comes time to start revampin' and revitalizin' with public money, Mayor Jerry Jennings will doubtless cast his abhorrence of negativity to the wind, and rush to lift the veil from Spitzer's eyes.

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

PS: "Apple knockers" is an old term for upstate New Yorkers. Because apples have long been one of the region's most important crops. My mother used the term to describe herself and her family. She grew up in upstate New York during the Depression. When things were truly Appalachian.

*Upstate Looks Like Appalachia' to Spitzer, and He Has Plans to Fix It, Jennifer Medina, New York Times, 03/22/06

Sources include:

"'Appalachia' Shoe Fits, Spitzer says," Joseph Spector, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle 03/22/06

"Is upstate really another Appalachia?" Tim Precious, Buffalo News, 03/22/06

"Upstate Looks Like 'Appalachia' to Spitzer, and He Has Plans to Fix It," Jennifer Medina, New York Times, 03/22/06

"Silverstein Places Big Bet on Spitzer Over Ground Zero," David Lombino, The New York Sun, 03/21/06

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Copyright (c) 2006 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.


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