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Expatriates hoping to come home

I know that they are listening -- Bill in Atlanta, Marty in the Carolinas, Josh B.

They are watching, they are waiting, they are hoping. They are hoping that a new governor will bring a new day. They are hoping that, as Sam Cooke memorably sang four decades ago, "A Change Is Gonna Come." The subject then was race, now it is jobs. Either way, folks want a chance.

Eliot Spitzer says he is the man to bring government of, by and for the people back to New York.

Right now, we have government of, by and for self-protecting state legislators -- who rig the system to ensure lifetime terms -- and the municipal unions, health care interests and other forces they serve. Real folks, folks for whom the system should work, are all but forgotten.

Spitzer said in his first week what the forgotten folks wanted to hear. He will change laws that spike construction costs. He will dissolve layers of government that siphon money and smother change. He will attack the stealth government of dollar-sucking, project-slowing authorities -- the bitter legacy of "empire builder" Robert Moses. He will save middle-class homeowners $6 billion in taxes.

"We will end the culture of spending that is out of control," Spitzer vowed.

The words are not just for those who are here. They are also for those who left but yearn to come back.

Their bodies left Buffalo years ago. Their hearts remained behind. They have e-mailed me over the years to say that when the jobs come back, they will too. Most left behind family and friends. They pulled up deep roots and packed lifelong memories. They left for one reason: to find work. They could no longer make a living in job-light, tax-heavy upstate.

They talk to family who are here. They read the newspaper online. They wait for a sign that things are changing.

A recent e-mail from expatriate Josh B.: "Oh how I wish I could move back to Buffalo, but it is allergic to jobs."

Former Buffalonian Marty R.: "There is no other place like Buffalo . . . But there is a dynamism here in the South that [upstate] has lost."

Bill K. in Atlanta: "My heart will always be [in Buffalo], but vision appears to have left."

They left because years of Albany fiddling left upstate's economy scorched. The high cost of doing business drove business away. Where jobs go, people follow. And folks got an extra push out the door: the tax load from the excess of public jobs, salaries, pensions, payrolls and public health (Medicaid) costs that Albany loads on our backs.

Spitzer understands the disease and knows the cure. The question is whether he can crack Albany's petrified political culture. Expect the usual strategy from the 210 lawmakers, led by party bosses Democrat Shelly Silver and Republican Joe Bruno: Talk a good game but try to delay every reform to death.

"Albany is a tough place to change," said Blair Horner of NYPIRG, the good government group. "But Spitzer is in a good place to do it. . . . He is coming off a huge [election] victory, with people clamoring for change. . . . If he plays it smart, he can get some wins."

If Spitzer gets some wins, he gets momentum. If the train starts rolling, no politician wants to be left at the station.

"It is going to be a great fight," Horner said. If Spitzer wins, so do we.

"Some will feel threatened . . . by these reforms," Spitzer said. "[They] will say we can't, we shouldn't, and we won't."

He is right. The folks who feed on the status quo don't like what Spitzer says.

The rest of us, the folks the system is supposed to work for, like it just fine.

They like it whether they live here, or whether they merely long to come back.


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