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21st April

First Published in The New York Sun, April 21, 2006

By Andrew Wolf

In trying to assume total control of state government, Democrats are attempting a feat that hasn’t been accomplished by any party since the Republicans controlled the Assembly, State Senate, and the executive mansion during the Nixon administration.

If the Republican Party is to survive in New York, it will have to borrow from William Jefferson Clinton’s 1992 playbook: It IS the economy, stupid!
Since the late 1960s, the Democratic mantra hasn’t changed much.The Democratic philosophy in the Empire State is that upstate is bleeding downstate. Maybe at one time this was true, but the reality today is that the only healthy economy in the state is that of New York City and environs. When Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Eliot Spitzer described upstate as Appalachia, he wasn’t too far off the mark. It is the once proud cities and rural areas of the state that will increasingly depend on Gotham. But when the good economic times we now enjoy downstate slow down, the economy of the entire state will be at risk.

That is the message Republicans must convey. They must provide a message of hope for upstate and a measure of sanity here in the city. This is why the saga of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity is so important.
When the CFE lawsuit was first filed, the Governor’s Mansion was occupied by Mario Cuomo, reaching the end of a 20-year period during which Democrats held both the governorship, as well as the Assembly. It is not Republicans alone who “shortchanged” the city. Democrats bear at least two-thirds of the blame.

The competitive political position that Republicans once enjoyed has been totally eroded. Part of the blame is demographics and economics. Once you leave the economic pull of the New York City metropolitan area, there is nothing but bad news until you reach the Canadian border. Great companies once called places like Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo home. Now they are shadows of their former selves. A million upstaters left for greener pastures and greater opportunity since the beginning of the 1990s.

Eastman Kodak was once the engine that drove Rochester. Everyone used Kodak products; cameras were once referred to as “Kodaks,” much as we today refer to “Scotch” tape or “Xeroxing” a document. Thousands of jobs have been lost by the company, which has been forced to move much of its production abroad. While they are making great strides to enter the digital photography market, there is no shortage of competitors. Last year, they ended the production of the paper used to print black and white photographs. This was a small market, mainly composed of hobbyists. But it was the historic heart of what the company was about, the kind of move only a company in extremis makes.

Where was the leadership in Albany that was needed to help Kodak prosper and keep its thousands of jobs in Rochester? As Kodak shipped hundreds of Rochester jobs manufacturing singleuse cameras to Brazil, a factory turning out a similar product for Japanese competitor Fujifilm was lured to South Carolina.As South Carolina was figuring a way to attract foreign jobs, we couldn’t come up with a strategy to even keep what we already had!

I fear that for much of the state, it is already too late. One of Governor Rockefeller’s pet projects was for a “fourth jetport” to be built in Orange County at the abandoned Stewart Air Force Base. At the same time, there was a growing realization that the once great resorts of the Catskills, which once employed thousands, were sinking into oblivion, and that only casino gambling could save them.

The state failed to act. To this day, Governor Pataki is still spinning schemes based on wacky land trades with Indian tribes, and the Catskills and lower Hudson Valley still have no casinos. It was once so widely assumed that casino gambling would be approved in the Catskills that two of the scions of the Grossinger family, owners of the world famous Catskill resort, Mark and Mitchell Etess, went to work in the gaming industry, presumably with an eye toward reviving the family brand. While working for Donald Trump, Mark was killed in a helicopter crash in 1989. Mitchell was recently named chief executive officer of the wildly successful Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut. But the only game played on the former Grossinger property today is a bit of golf.

By the time the Stewart Airport project moved ahead, it had been so botched that it has never amounted to anything more that a minor local airport. It could have become a huge generator of revenue and business, fed by an east coast Vegas in nearby Sullivan and Ulster counties. All it took was vision and the ability to make things happen.

Can government get things done today? A big hole in lower Manhattan tells us no. Can the state economy be saved by a new governor who spent the past eight years harassing the most successful industry is the nation, the financial industry? Is there a candidate up to the task of saving New York’s economy? This is the opportunity presented to the Republicans, or perhaps to Democratic maverick Thomas Suozzi.

© 2006 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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