New Yorkers should want their coequal branches of government to function as the check first envisioned by the U.S. Constitution. Human nature is such that power needs to be monitored.
But New Yorkers should also want those who are serving in that essential role to do it more like adults and less like showboats. Assemblyman Raymond Walter should take note.
The Amherst Republican, plowing ahead in full peacock mode, lit into Howard Zemsky last week at a legislative hearing on economic development. Zemsky, who was a successful Buffalo developer before he was economic development czar for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, knows this subject. That doesn’t make him immune from oversight or criticism – in his position, he invites it – but it also should command a decent level of respect and, if not that, at least courtesy.
Showboats aren’t courteous.
Walter is a member of a body that has done little of value for Western New York, especially regarding economic development. That doesn’t mean he and his colleagues should shy away from their essential role in evaluating the effectiveness of the administration’s programs, of course, but it might suggest a more thoughtful approach than instructing Zemsky to stop focusing on “platitudes.” That kind of boorishness tells more about Walter than it suggests about Zemsky.
The bee in Walter’s bonnet was about the results of Cuomo’s much-touted economic development efforts for Western New York. He observed, for example, that most out-of-state firms that won award money from the Buffalo-based 43North competition moved out of Buffalo after a year, and insisted that Zemsky couldn’t show exactly how Cuomo’s efforts have improved economic development in the region.
That’s fair enough, as far as it goes. Cuomo – with the assent of the Legislature – has committed more than $1 billion to restarting the region’s economy. One project – the solar panel factory at RiverBend – has produced criminal indictments. Legislators would be remiss not to take note.
But Walter blew it up by petulantly accusing Zemsky of engaging in platitudes, igniting a worthless exchange of digs. The tenor of Walter’s over-the-top approach suggests that he was more interested in attacking Cuomo, a Democrat who is up for re-election next year, than he was in safeguarding taxpayers’ dollars. That may be politics as usual, but it doesn’t do much to advance the public good.
Whatever legitimate lines of inquiry might exist, the hard fact is that Cuomo has done more for Western New York than any governor in memory, Republican or Democrat. It’s important to evaluate those efforts, but it’s also important to understand that some will succeed better than others and some, perhaps, not at all.
Politics ain’t beanbag, as the saying goes, and both parties work with their elbows out in New York. No one expects – or should tolerate – a conspiracy of silence. Indeed, that has already happened too much in Albany, as the parade of convicted state officials testifies. A lot of backs get scratched in that town.
But surely there is a middle ground where legislators, armed with facts, can ask hard questions respectfully. Tempers may flare occasionally in such a setting, but grandstanding isn’t necessary and is so transparent as to risk disqualifying the questioner.