Compare upstate New York's economy to Appalachia, as Democratic gubernatorial front-runner Eliot L. Spitzer did, or to the Dust Bowl, or to the hurricane-decimated Gulf Coast. We don't honestly care what it's labeled, as long as the people conjuring names respond to their characterizations with functional, effective programs to help lift it out of its doldrums. Empty promises range from Hillary Rodham Clinton's 200,000 new jobs, to a rookie Albany assemblyman pledging to solve everyone's problems by tomorrow, but this region's economy fails to provide adequate jobs to maintain population growth.
If it takes a stark -- and wholly exaggerated, borderline insulting -- comparison like Spitzer used to get him to focus on real, bipartisan solutions, hallelujah. It's no mystery what's needed; it just takes guts, artful compromise and power to get it done. Upstate needs tax cuts at all levels of government, and significantly fewer levels of government; it needs reforms in Albany-set work rules and construction laws; and politicians, particularly in an Assembly Spitzer's party controls and he will have to convince, who will put taxpayers first; it has to shift from Rust Belt to Must Belt: must change, must be creative.
There are think tanks strung from Washington Avenue in Albany to Washington Street in Buffalo that can dust off blueprints for changing and improving upstate's economy. Pick one. But the absolute must is a governor who can actually get these things done. To be blunt, as much as Spitzer has going for him, we need to be convinced that a liberal New York City Democrat has what it takes to make the hard calls that will help upstate's economy. We'd like to be pleasantly surprised.
The Buffalo Niagara region has 11,600 fewer jobs today than it did before the recession of 2001; the region lost factory jobs every year from 1995 to 2005; its average annual economic growth rate from 1994 to 2004 ranked Buffalo 283rd out of 361 cities, while New York City's economy rebounded after 9/1 1. Economically, upstate's worse than the 12 Appalachian states.
So call it what you want, Mr. Spitzer. Assign a memorable tag to flag it in your Blackberry so next year, if you are governor, you'll tackle and fix the state's biggest problem.