Thursday, March 13, 2008

And When You Disappear, We'll Just Pretend You Were Never Here

You know what I've been turning over in my mind the past few days: I'm actually kind of glad that Eliot Spitzer is resigning. Don't get me wrong, the circumstances of his resignation are no doubt extremely painful for his wife and children and - though less sympathetic - the Governor himself. I would never wish such humiliation on anyone, nor do I delight in their suffering. My point is just that Spitzer has been a massive disappointment (prior to the scandal) and a rather ineffectual leader.

Despite his enormous margin of victory, and sky-high approval ratings upon entering office, he has managed to alienate Democrats and Republicans alike - from citizens, to those within the State legislature, to those in national office. Much of this stems from Spitzer's dictatorial style, and unwillingness to bring others into the decision making process (or coax the public along with his plan).

Spitzer has preferred to spring his proposals on lawmakers with little pre-game consensus building or consultation. He prefers the rule by fiat - but that doesn't work so well in a State where the opposition controls one of the houses (the state senate). Republicans have opposed his every move and, due to his aloof and dismissive manner, he has even failed to rally what should be solid support from amongst the State's Democratic legislators.

His plan to issue driver's licenses to undocumented workers was a fiasco that managed to creep up and taint both Clinton and Obama in successive debates. It would have helped them - and his cause in general - if he had consulted various Party leaders before springing it on them, as well as the public. That is no way to massage a legislative body or electorate into supporting a potentially controversial program.

But that was just a high profile microcosm of Spitzer's inability to grasp the intricacies of the governing process. Maybe watching Bush during the last 7+ years gave him the wrong impression as to the typical dynamic between an executive and his/her legislature. Perhaps it was the years spent as Attorney General - in charge of an entire office - that led to the development of bad habits that didn't translate well to the State House.

Whatever the cause, Spitzer's approval ratings were abysmal (quite a shocking drop from their initial peaks), and his record of legislative accomplishment was near non-existent. This from a Governor that was supposed to shake up the status quo and bring massive change to the State's calcified political culture.

But here's the good news: by all indications, Governor-to-be David Paterson is many of the things that Spitzer is not (a dealmaker, who knows how to develop relationships, listen to other voices and build consensus) - while still possessing many of Spitzer's more admirable attributes; such as intelligence, drive, progressive bona fides and desire to usher in positive change. This post at the Albany Project gives a taste of Paterson's agenda. As a side note: I'm also very proud that my home State finally has a black governor, and one that is legally blind. Paterson will stand as a role model to so many people, and that is one rather large bonus.

Speaking of which, Paterson also has a sense of humor. From a recent back-and-forth with reporters:
Just so we don't have to go through this whole resignation thing again," one ballsy reporter asked, "Have you ever patronized a prostitute?"

Paterson thought for a minute. "Only the lobbyists," he said.
So pardon me if I'm not exactly lamenting Spitzer's departure. It leaves Democrats, and all New Yorkers, in much more capable hands. I'm already looking forward to it.

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