Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer's search for an upstate director of the Empire State Development Corp. should start and end upstate. This region does not need another visionary from elsewhere in the nation qualified primarily to add to the stack of development ideas; it needs someone who already feels upstate's pain and shares the need not just to envision projects but to get them done.
Candidate Spitzer's original concept of new leadership for the state's economic development arm caught that urgency, as he seemed to suggest the overall director of Empire State Development would be headquartered in Buffalo. That would have been a bold and heartening move for upstaters, especially here in the state's second-largest city, because an agency and a director headquartered amid the recovering and growing economy of Manhattan could not fully feel the suffering and urgency of the economic slide far to the north and west of New York City.
That concept has been watered down, now, to a plan for a dual directorship of the agency -- one with equal upstate and downstate directors channeling state development assistance to development projects. Spitzer promises to make that work. But it's a vision of two New Yorks, not one, and it deepens an already troubling regional divide. We hope he succeeds, but that two-headed agency will have to deliver efficient and equal development expertise and aid.
That makes selection of a Buffalo-headquartered upstate director especially critical. The need is not simply for national credentials -- there will be room within the agency's large staff for such experts and theorists -- but for the understanding, local commitment and leadership skills necessary to build a robust recovery.
That calls for deep upstate empathy as well as skill. It calls for both practical skills in implementing projects, not just planning them, and it calls for the ability to pick up the phone and call the governor -- the kind of influence wielded by Western New York businessmen Frank McGuire during the administration of Gov. Mario Cuomo and by Anthony Gioia during the Pataki administration -- when an extra push is needed.
Spitzer's decision to locate a director and upstate-focused staff here in Western New York was the most significant step he has taken so far for this region, and the way he follows through on that commitment is critical. It's important not just to have a director from this region, but the right director from this region. We appreciate the fact that Spitzer seems to be taking the time to do this correctly.