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High expectations for Spitzer

There's something special about the pomp and circumstance of a new administration taking over Albany.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer's Inauguration Day rhetoric seemed to inspire even the deposed Republicans. Ditto for his State of the State address before an Assembly Chamber packed with anybody who's anybody.

But for Spitzer the festivities now yield to real work. And judging by the tone of the fall campaign as well as his initial speeches, it's obvious that Buffalo and the upstate economy lie near the top of his agenda.

To that end, Spitzer is preparing for one of the most important appointments of his young administration. He is scouring the country for the right person to lead the upstate office of the Empire State Development Corp., the existing economic agency that Spitzer promises will put new emphasis on this area.

A lot rides on this one. If anything will measure the success of Spitzer's time as governor, it's whether he can deliver on his promise to revive upstate's moribund economy. That's why just about everyone predicts the eventual pick must be a major figure with the "gravitas" to deal directly with the governor.

Maybe that's why several sources say Spitzer focused serious attention on former county executive Dennis Gorski to lead the upstate effort, which the governor has promised will be headquartered in Buffalo.

Seven years after leaving the county executive's office, Gorski may enjoy the best reputation of his career despite the low political profile he works hard to maintain. Even when he lost to Republican Joel Giambra in 1999, polls showed Gorski to be popular.

Ironically, Gorski's legacy grew as Giambra's difficulties mounted. Indeed, the financial control board that now practically runs Erie County is comprised largely of the old Gorski gang.

But the same sources say Gorski is well entrenched as a top executive with Health Now. He makes a good buck, enjoys his family time and will soon settle into a nifty office complete with view of Lake Erie in Health Now's new downtown headquarters.

Other names are in the mix, including -- interestingly -- Supreme Court Justice Joe Makowski and Gerry Crotty, the Buffalo native who was secretary to Gov. Mario Cuomo. Those in the know say nine out of the approximately 12 people under serious consideration hail from outside the area.

Certainly, Mayor Byron Brown and Erie County Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan are among those whom Spitzer and his people consult on local appointments. Those two camps sometimes find themselves at odds, but all indications point to them working reasonably well together in helping the Spitzer administration get off the ground.

Another possible appointment, which sources say is backed by all Democratic camps, is Laura Monte as the governor's regional representative in the Department of State. She is the unsuccessful 2006 Assembly candidate who once worked for Sen. Chuck Schumer.

That post is often described as the governor's local "eyes and ears," occupied in the past by folks like Peggy Ray and Tim Clark for Cuomo, and Tim Doolittle and Jennifer McNamara for Gov. George Pataki.

So far it appears the local process is running smoothly, with Spitzer unconcerned over the area's relatively minor turf disagreements. He has other worries. But the expectations of Week One are high. Republicans and Democrats alike hope Spitzer's rhetoric translates into action.

And as he prepares for one of the most symbolically important appointments at Empire State Development, he and everyone else seems to realize that the upstate economy will demand much more than symbolism.


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