Thursday, January 05, 2006

Pataki's Final State of the State Address

Yesterday, New Yorkers saw Governor George Pataki give his final State of the State address. These addresses are usually fairly innocuous. After their delivery, most consideration deals with sifting through them to find anything that is remotely noteworthy. They are, generally speaking, wishful and hopeful. Two qualities that all our lives could use more of. However, they are fairly divorced from reality. I'm not coming down on the Governor for what was an optimistic speech. This speech was built on optimism. I'm only pointing out that both his perception of New York over the last 11 years and his vision for his last year do not track with reality.

First, I believe the Governor will run for President in 2008 and that he will also lose the race for the nomination quickly and without contention. The first he is already planning for, the second he needs to consider. Yesterday’s speech does little to further his ambition. I disagree with Assemblywoman Susan John who said:

"He is offering few new programs to revitalize our economy. To me, this seemed more like a speech aimed at the citizens of Iowa."

I don't see what that speech held in it for the people of Iowa or New Hampshire. Let's face it. Those folks want to see what we want to see: results. And the bottom line is that the Governor has done very little to improve things in New York. And the things that he did accomplish, notably Albany reforms, came much too late in his term to warrant him any special credit. No, it would seem that Governor Pataki did what he had to do at that point in order to satiate voters. He didn't lead us to the reforms, he was taken there kicking and screaming. So did the rest of the representatives in Albany. Both sides of the party lacked solid leadership in this achievement. It was an achievement in spite of itself.

And so that is the reality from where we sit in Rochester. The optimism is wonderful though. Optimism can be a powerful thing, because it can surge like breaking tide and carry us over rocks of disappointment that could break us apart. Considering it now, a positive pragmatism seems to be in very short supply here in western New York. Too often are we left to ponder the latest closings of businesses that have either migrated away or burned out. Everyday, we see the fallout from closing a budget gap, or another night of violence. These things hover about us like spirits while obscuring our vision of where the future leads us.

These are hard times in western New York. We do not feel like we live in "a stronger, safer, cleaner, more prosperous state than it's been in generations".

Given that, I do not fault the Governor for his optimism. I don't think I ever have. I find fault with him that he has never pursued his vision with enough vigor to see it carried out. It is not his vision, it was his execution. The hard times we face in western New York require big men* who sense that large problems require brave, bold solutions. Pataki was never willing to put too much of his own reputation on the line to solve these problems. This is why he won’t be regarded as much of anything in the long run, I’m sorry to say.

Let's hope our next Governor, whoever it may be, will not only have an ambitious vision for New York, but the courage and conviction to make it a reality.

*"big men" was used for its cadence. Don't get all up in my face about it please.


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