Features and Columns

Online Edition Friday February 09, 2007
B. McMillan M. Miller M. Barry Contents

Michael Miller


Washington Beat: As depressing as it sounds, many of the newly elected Representatives started fundraising for 2008 even before taking office on January 3.

Albany Beat: Molly Ivins, the outstanding syndicated columnist, passed away this week. Although well-known for her funny and insightful pieces about Texas politics, many fans may not know that when she worked as a reporter for The New York Times in the 1970s and 1980s, she covered the New York legislature out of Albany and then NYC politics.... Governor Spitzer has been very up-front about his widely reported dressing-down of Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco ("I'm a [expletive] steamroller..."). Impressively, it took only a few hours for an entrepreneur to begin selling T-shirts emblazoned with this phrase. The next day the Governor demonstrated a sense of humor by posing in one of the shirts. The speed with which the governor's relationships with legislators and others have degraded is alarming and of concern to anyone who wants to see real change in the Capitol. Mr. Spitzer's immediate two predecessors had such bad relationships with lawmakers that by the end of their terms that they couldn't get any big things passed. Another Democratic Governor, the great Al Smith, used to warn that public opinion was "a slim reed to lean on." In an ominous sign, beat reporters are talking among themselves that Mr. Spitzer is coming across as too controlling and generally wound too tight. Ultimately, the legislature has the real power to change things and can wait the Governor out if they feel too threatened. Even legislators of good will and good faith are concerned about the precedents that might be set if "Governor Steamroller" and his tactics are allowed to go unchecked. The debates over reform are too important to be derailed by debates over turf.... I have never mentioned it in this space, but one of my ongoing projects is a biography, nearing completion, of another New York governor who saw himself as an irresistible force with a mission. Almost a century ago, this governor also came into office on a record landslide, vowing to change and reform everything from the first day. He took office as a national political superstar, with a mandate from the people. He took on all comers and quickly began a string of wars against the most powerful and entrenched interests in Albany. His enemies eventually moved against him, found a chink in the armor and everything came apart in a spectacular crash and burn. Almost no one reading this has ever heard of Governor William "Plain Bill" Sulzer.... The total state debt more than tripled between 1990 and 2006, and is now projected to reach $52 billion in 2007 (nearly $3,700 for every adult New Yorker). The "Debt Reform Act of 2000" was supposed to end many of the practices causing the mounting debt, but loopholes have allowed the state government to issue debt at a faster rate since its passage.

7th Senate District Beat: Voters are far more likely to support a candidate because of trust than because they agree on the issues. Candidates build trust most effectively by being clear and consistent... Try to guess which candidate, the alleged tax-and-spend Democrat or the alleged right-wing-extremist Republican, has literature which says, "As State Senator, 'X' will work to make housing, heating bills and prescription drugs more affordable for seniors..." Truthfully, I don't remember which one it was right now... Both sides have lowered the bar for future local elections with mailings like those stating that Joe Mondello, recently elected Republican state chairman, and former County Executive Tom Gulotta engaged in "corruption" and "fraud." No one was more critical of Gulotta's administration and its lethargic mismanagement than me, but neither he nor Mondello were ever accused of criminal activity. Local Dems used to flip out when GOP used those kinds of tactics against their elected officials.... Again, it's all about motivation and de-motivation of those who are likely to vote... Actual statement from an out-of-town campaign worker, upon a suggestion that a certain campaign tactic might be counterproductive: "I've heard that, but we have orders from on high to do this..." Which party doesn't really matter.

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