Share this article

print logo

Spitzer needs to hear from other voices

He promised a new day in Albany. But in one respect, Eliot Spitzer is starting out like other governors before him -- and political leaders everywhere.

When figuring out what Western New York needs, he'll listen in large part to the same types of folks who traditionally make up an elected executive's "Kitchen Cabinet."

His list of informal local advisers revealed this week includes the same "suits" -- politicians, bankers and business leaders -- who always get entree.

But let's face it: The mayor's street will always get plowed, bank presidents can always get a loan, and friends of the party chairman will always get a job.

Just once, instead of getting only top-down advice, it would be nice to see a leader establish a mechanism to hear personally and regularly from those who will feel the brunt of what government does or doesn't do.

There's nothing wrong with listening to the "movers and shakers," who no doubt have valuable insights.

But what about the shakees?

The new governor's aides insist he will listen to them, too, using an "office of intergovernmental affairs" to reach out not just to area politicians, but to community and neighborhood groups. And they cite his record as attorney general and his campaign as evidence of his interest in "average families."

General Motors Powertrain retiree Art Green recalls Spitzer going after insurance companies as attorney general. So does Powertrain retiree Joe Gibbs.

"That's what got him elected, because he was saving poor people -- and rich people -- money," said Gibbs, a Frankfort Street resident. They think Spitzer will have that same focus as governor.

Still, it would be reassuring to see an alternative Kitchen Cabinet that includes the laid-off factory worker with three kids who could advise the governor on unemployment benefits. Or the retiree worried about his pension. Or the worker trying to raise his family on 40 percent less than other workers under the new two-tiered wage scale becoming so popular. Their perspective on the "business climate" might be a little different.

Or how about talking regularly with a Buffalo or Niagara Falls mother angry over the fact that her urban school lacks the resources of suburban schools. As the governor tries to hike school funding, she could advise him on how hard it is to keep her son focused on his education when others in Albany don't seem to value it.

Or he could have a hotline with a minority business owner trying to grow his firm while government agencies play games with the bidding rules or set arbitrary financial requirements that keep his small company small.

Some of these people may not have the answers -- any more than the movers and shakers do, as evidenced by the area's continued woes. But at least they would keep the new governor grounded, giving him the type of perspective he could only get from someone who treks from Niagara Falls to Buffalo every day because there's no work up there.

"There's nothing in Niagara Falls; everybody I know is unemployed," said Josh Smith, 23, who makes the drive six days a week to work at Camelia Meats in the Broadway Market. He recalls growing up when Falls businesses flourished. "Now there's a pawnshop, a beauty shop and a KFC. That's the only thing left on Main Street."

Spitzer will get the big picture from the movers and shakers.

But it doesn't carry the same emotional impact as hearing it from someone like Smith and then talking with him again the next month -- and every month after that -- to tell him what you've done.


There are no comments - be the first to comment