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Economic czar needs to live here

Clarence: $389,900. Fabulous brick Colonial 4BR 2.5 BTH 3700 sq ft., numerous updates.

The above listing is provided as a public service, my small way of helping our upstate economic czar find a home in the Buffalo area. We have plenty of places, from the waterfront to Amherst, for an executive to roost. Whether Dan Gundersen ever buys in remains to be seen.

The man appointed to save us is not anxious to live among us. The pillow where Gundersen rests his head most nights is not in Buffalo, but in the atypically upscale upstate burg of Saratoga Springs. Nice. If his goal is to deepen our inferiority complex, he is succeeding.

Eliot Spitzer created the position of upstate economic czar and put the office in Buffalo, because we need help the most. We are emblematic of the dismal consequences of upstate's high taxes and job flight. The state's development office in Manhattan might as well be on Mars, so far removed economically is Broadway from Buffalo.

Now we learn that the man picked to head the new Buffalo office does not live here. Appointed in January, Gundersen is renting in Saratoga Springs, near the state capital. He does not know where he will put down roots.

Imagine his pitch to out-of-state companies he is trying to lure here: Buffalo is a great place to do business -- but I wouldn't want to live there.

It is tough to persuade folks to do what you are not willing to do yourself. Especially when you are supposed to be our flag-bearer, head cheerleader and drum major rolled into one. We feel bruised, if not downright insulted, when the guy who carries our water quenches his thirst in Saratoga Springs.

We are trying not to take it personally. But it is not easy.

We have been dissed before. Blizzards, plant closings and losing Super Bowls are ingrained in our negative national image. But insults hurled by a brain-softened Malibu sun worshipper are one thing. Far worse is getting backhanded by a guy who is paid to be on our side. We can't even buy a friend.

Gundersen relocated from Pennsylvania to take the job. He made a big deal when introduced here about his wife growing up in upstate and now returning. But, apparently, not returning quite yet. Or maybe someday. Or maybe never.

Gundersen said proximity to Albany puts him close to the action. We can find a bureaucrat who hangs out in Albany or roosts in Manhattan anytime. That is typically what we get. Immersing oneself in Albany's Oz-like culture is no way to restart Buffalo's economic heart.

Spitzer placed an economic office here to bring water to the desert. Gundersen can better understand what we need, and how badly we need it, if he lives and works among us. Hearing about our latest plant closing while lunching with lobbyists in Albany barely moves the empathy needle. But overhearing tales of job searches and juggled bills while standing in a supermarket line in Buffalo shoves reality into your face.

Spitzer stands by his man. He said what Gundersen does is more important than where he lives. He noted recent successes like the engine deal at GM's Tonawanda plant and the coming Citigroup jobs. Fair enough. But Gundersen's biggest imprint on our consciousness is as the guy who does not want to live here.

Maybe it is not convenient to have a Buffalo home and a need to roam to Albany or New York. But we have 18 state lawmakers who make a weekly cross-state commute. If they can, so can he.

Unless, of course, living here is more than he can take. In which case, he ought to think about taking another job.


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