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
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
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
"'Appalachia' Shoe Fits, Spitzer says," Joseph Spector, Rochester
Democrat and Chronicle 03/22/06
"Is upstate really another Appalachia?" Tim Precious, Buffalo
"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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