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New governor calls for unity Spitzer asks citizens to abandon the divisions that can halt progress

Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer, on his first day as the state's 54th chief executive, urged New Yorkers to join him in promoting a new reform ethos in Albany and end the days of the state "standing still and start moving forward once more."

Taking office at a time of scandals involving other state officials, Spitzer pledged in his inaugural to make state government more open and accountable in ways that will trickle down to help everything from the upstate economy to soaring health care costs.

With three former governors looking on, the new governor asked New Yorkers to abandon the state's traditional and "tempting" divides along urban and rural, upstate and downstate and partisan lines that can halt progress.

"We must strive to build one New York through a politics that operates on the principle that we rise or fall as one people and one state," Spitzer said.

The takeover of the governor's mansion by the first Democrat in 12 years began with a rainy, two-mile early-morning run by Spitzer and about 150 supporters through an Albany park.

By breakfast time, he signed five executive orders. They included a tightening of loopholes for former government employees, ending the days of governors appearing in free TV ads, prohibiting state workers from using government resources for personal use and banning gifts to state workers and nepotism in hiring and agency contracting.

"Good morning, governor," a smiling George E. Pataki said as he greeted Spitzer and his wife, Silda Wall, who had climbed the 77 steps to the little-used East entrance lobby of the Capitol.

The new governor's pleasantries did not last long. Spitzer sought repeatedly in his inaugural address to portray himself as an agent of change who will bring a new style of leadership to a governor's office that critics say has operated on cruise control for years.

Without mentioning Pataki by name, Spitzer's references were clear enough to the audience, which included former governors Mario Cuomo and Hugh Carey.

>State's been sleeping

"Like Rip Van Winkle, the legendary character created by the New York author Washington Irving, New York has slept through much of the past decade while the rest of the world has passed us by," Spitzer told several thousand people who joined him on a gray Albany afternoon in a park adjoining the west side of the Capitol. It was the state's first outdoor inaugural.

To return prosperity to the state, Spitzer said, "we must change the ethics of Albany and end the politics of cynicism and division in our state."

Pataki shifted in his seat and glanced at his wife as the couple sat about 15 feet away from Spitzer during a series of not-so-subtle references to a failed state government. The former governor later insisted he was not bothered by Spitzer's comments.

"It's a new beginning. I understand that," Pataki said when asked if he was upset about Spitzer's Rip Van Winkle line.

"I don't agree with that," Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, the Legislature's top Republican, said of Spitzer's attacks on the past 12 years of GOP rule in Albany. He said history will judge Pataki's years in office as "one of the most productive" in the state.

The speech, as is tradition for inaugural addresses, was light on detail. Spitzer will flesh out more of his plans Wednesday, when he delivers his first State of the State speech to a joint house of the Legislature. Those plans will take greater shape in four weeks, when he proposes his first state budget.

Democrats felt boastful Monday after 12 years of Pataki rule.

"I think it's a great day for New York. I think it's a great day for Democrats," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, as he headed into a morning meeting with other state lawmakers and several congressional representatives. "Twelve years of George Pataki was enough," he added.

Silver, too, will see his role shift -- if he is to get along with Spitzer, anyway -- from the voice of opposition to a gubernatorial ally.

"Our job was to stop a lot of the bad things" proposed by Pataki, Silver said. Now, he said, he sees his role being "to work alongside Eliot Spitzer to make sure good things happen."

>People's inaugural

The day was billed as a "people's inaugural" and featured food and music from around the state. It included singing groups from the University at Buffalo and regional fare from the Anchor Bar and Charlie the Butcher's Kitchen, both in Western New York. There was a reception line for the public at the governor's mansion, which saw few public functions during the Pataki administration.

Spitzer made sure to give a bow to every corner of the state, whether by inviting Fowler's Chocolates in Buffalo and Guss' Pickles from lower Manhattan to sell their goods to the inaugural crowd or wearing a pin-strip suit from Hickey Freeman in Rochester or tie from O'Connell's Clothing in Buffalo.

He also turned to star power -- Judy Collins sang at the inaugural, and James Taylor and Natalie Merchant performed later at a free concert -- to try to fuel some excitement into a ceremonial event often more for government insiders.

In his 20-minute speech, delayed an hour to let rain clouds move off, Spitzer sought to lay out a pathway to change. How the change will work, though, with a Legislature and special-interest community often disagreeable to change, remains uncertain.

Spitzer did not use the word mandate to describe his large margin of victory over Republican John Faso -- he won 69 percent of the vote -- but he made clear he wants to use the November election results to create a new direction in Albany. He has counted among his priorities reforming how lobbying is conducted, how state budgets are crafted, how campaigns are financed and how health care institutions and schools are funded.

"This election was not about electing one person as governor. Rather it was about what we the people collectively elected for the future of our state," Spitzer said. "We chose pragmatism and ethics over partisan politics and dysfunction, and we demanded an end to gridlock."

>Difficult task ahead

In the midst of the lofty rhetoric, Spitzer acknowledged the difficult task ahead and asked for patience from New Yorkers.

"It will require a new brand of politics -- a break from the days when progress was measured by the partisan points scored or the opponents defeated," he said. "No longer can we afford merely to tinker at the margins of the status quo or play the politics of pitting one group against another. We must replace delay and diversion with energy and purpose in the halls of our capital."

After his speech, Spitzer and his wife greeted 1,200 people who won tickets in a lottery to meet the new governor at the mansion.

"Take a look around. It's your house," Spitzer said of a house that he will not -- like Pataki -- live in full time. His family will continue to live in a Manhattan apartment owned by his father and a weekend home the couple recently purchased in Columbia County.
Spitzer said New Yorkers must fight those who will "peddle the politics of cynicism" that will try to halt reforms coming to Albany.

"Every policy," Spitzer said, "every action, every decision we make in this administration will further two overarching objectives: We must transform our government so that it is as ethical and wise as all of New York, and we must rebuild our economy so that it is ready to compete on the global stage in the next century."


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