Friday, February 09, 2007

Eliot Spitzer the SteamRoller!

Eliot is taking his cause to the people!

During a swing through Syracuse that was originally scheduled for the governor to promote his budget priorities, Mr. Spitzer denounced a local assemblyman, William B. Magnarelli, for reneging on the agreement that the Legislature had made to select a comptroller from a list of qualified candidates put forward by a screening committee.

“Bill Magnarelli is one of those unfortunate Assembly members who just raises his hand when he’s told to do so, and didn’t even bother to stand up and say, ‘Whose interest am I representing?’ ” he told The Post-Standard of Syracuse on Thursday.

It was, by Albany standards, a shocking breach of etiquette for a sitting governor to lambaste a colleague from his own party in his home district.

And it reflected a sharp escalation of the take-no-prisoners approach that has characterized his administration in its first six weeks. During that time, he has derided what he portrayed as the “Rip van Winkle” years of former Gov. George E. Pataki, privately told the Assembly minority leader that he was a “steamroller” who would roll over anyone in his way, and infuriated his fellow Democrats in the Assembly by accusing them of “cronyism” in the fight over the new comptroller.

The battle between the new Democratic governor and Democrats in the Assembly heated up on several fronts Thursday. The governor canceled a getting-to-know-you lunch with Assembly Democrats next Monday, as well as a $10,000-a-head fund-raiser next week for the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee.

And his budget tour included several stops in the districts of Assembly Democrats who had sided with the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, in the comptroller battle — including some who hold seats in swing districts where the Republicans could be expected to make inroads. An aide said that the governor might criticize their votes on the comptroller at more of these stops.

With the public, Mr. Spitzer has indeed been a steamroller. He won a landslide victory in November, and this week he helped elect a Democrat to a State Senate seat in Nassau County that has been held by Republicans for decades. In Albany, though, only 212 people matter: the lawmakers he needs to enact his budget and his ethics proposals.

Aides to Mr. Spitzer say his aggressive style, willingness to engage, and outspokenness in his first weeks in office are all part of his strategy to push his agenda through a famously recalcitrant Legislature: that way, they believe, he can capture the public’s attention, and enlist it on his side. But lawmakers in Albany rarely face close elections, so, as many of Mr. Spitzer’s predecessors can attest, it can be very hard to put political pressure on them.

Taking the case directly to the people could have its limits, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California found out.

Mr. Spitzer said in an interview on Thursday that his outspoken approach to governing was rooted in his belief that if the facts are on his side, the public will support him in his reform efforts. He compared his current political battle with the Legislature to some of the battles he waged with Wall Street during his years as the state attorney general.

“A status quo does not want itself revealed, whether it’s to investors, shareholders or voters,” he said. “It pushes back in a strenuous way. My response every time is, let’s just get out the facts, what are we trying to do and why. And I have this very simple-minded belief that we will win by presenting those facts.”

The governor likened his interaction with the Legislature to a chess game. “This is a game that will have many moves and will take time to play out,” he said. “Now the board is set. It is now clear who is genuinely for reform and who is not.”


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