Gov.-elect Eliot L. Spitzer on Friday named a Long Island lawyer to head downstate economic development efforts and said he is still searching for the right candidate to help his administration try to ignite the lagging upstate economy.
In an unusual move involving a state agency, Spitzer said there will be co-chairmen of the state's Empire State Development Corp., the economic development arm of the state, with two people separately focused on the upstate and downstate regions.
"They are, in my mind, necessary and appropriately equal and on equal footing in how we view economic development in the state," Spitzer said of the arrangement. The upstate co-chairman and the office overseeing upstate economic development efforts will be based in Buffalo.
Spitzer, who earlier this year described upstate as akin to "Appalachia," vowed throughout his campaign that he would increase focus on the region. The Pataki administration has been criticized over the years for not doing so. Charles Gargano, Pataki's economic development chairman, is from downstate, as was his predecessor in the Cuomo administration.
The governor-elect said his advisers are still interviewing many candidates who live in upstate for the Buffalo-based post. But he also said he is open to hiring an outsider to try to bring fresh ideas to jump-start the economy.
He said it is important to remain open to the possibility of turning to a "world expert," even if the person is not from upstate. He declined to name possible candidates.
Besides offering a fresh perspective, an outsider might also enjoy a "lack of entanglements," Spitzer said.
He said an announcement of his choice would be made "in short order."
"We are moving quickly. This is an enormously important issue, perhaps the pre-eminent issue for me in state government," he said.
Spitzer, a Democrat, said there might have to be some legal changes within the economic development agency to permit co-chairmen to run the department.
"This is going to be equal partners," Spitzer said, "with 'two voices' to represent regions with very different needs and economies."
Spitzer on Friday announced he was nominating Pat Foye as the downstate chairman of the economic development agency. Foye, president of the United Way of Long Island, is also deputy chairman of the Long Island Power Authority. Avi Schick, a deputy attorney general in Spitzer's attorney general's office, was named by Spitzer to be the downstate chief operating officer and president of the Empire State Development Corp.
The appointments and nominations continued a pattern of Spitzer relying heavily on lawyers to fill senior posts in his administration. Others tapped Friday include Patricia Smith, who has headed the labor bureau in Spitzer's attorney general's office, as labor commissioner; and Eric Dinallo, general counsel of Willis Group Holdings, a global insurance broker, as the next insurance commissioner.
Spitzer named Dennis Whalen, a longtime Department of Health official with years of institutional knowledge about state health policies, as his secretary for health. Spitzer has yet to name a health commissioner, who must be a physician, to oversee the most expensive function of state government.
Other key jobs filled Friday include Marty Mack, a former Cortland County official, as his intergovernmental affairs director, and Peter Pope, who has been in charge of the attorney general's criminal division, as his policy director.
Spitzer also announced he will be replacing the state Housing Finance Agency Chairman Jerome M. Becker and his leadership team. His replacement is Priscilla Almodovar, currently a policy adviser for the governor-elect's transition office.