Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is the Metro Editor for WNYC News. She has previously served as Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
Spitzer Bus Tour Is Unofficial Campaign Kick-Off
Saturday, June 03, 2006
New York, NY –
In an unofficial kick-off to his campaign for Governor, Eliot Spitzer has been on a bus tour through 16 counties. WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein rode the bus and filed this campaign notebook.
REPORTER: Jumping off his campaign bus, arriving at rally after rally this week, Eliot Spitzer couldn’t wipe the broad grin off his face. It’s almost as if he couldn’t believe the former straight-A student himself here, the far-away front runner to be the next governor of New York.
Tom Petty: (singing) Stand my ground and I won’t back down.
REPORTER: For Attorney General Spitzer, eight years of fighting Wall Street, the insurance industry, and big corporations has made an indelible impression in the minds of voters. Even in traditionally Republican areas like Watertown, voters have a favorable view. Bruce Bohanan, a Republican who recently had to close his barbeque restaurant because of high utility bills, said he had faith.
Bohanan: Just based on his track record that he’s not afraid of taking on larger interests in favor of the smaller person.
REPORTER: Twelve years ago, voters in many of the same areas placed their faith in George Pataki. When Pataki promised to lower what he called “Cuomo taxes,” and cut red tape, voters believed him. The low-key State Senator from Peekskill who could barely get out a speech was the anti-Cuomo, the balm New York wanted. But now, Spitzer, type A, hard working, furiously smart, has become the anti-Pataki, and the repository of hope for voters in these economically depressed upstate regions. In Cheektowaga, a Buffalo suburb, Terrie Weaver, rushed up to Spitzer.
Weaver: I sure hope you get in sir, I don’t want to leave New York. I’m looking for a job.
REPORTER: Upstate voters have been running up to politicians for years now, making the same beseeching appeals.
Weaver: Buffalo’s not doing too good right now, the price of gas, and I’ve been looking for a job for four months, and it’s really, really hard.
REPORTER: But despite years of economic downturn, campaigns reveal the power of hope.
Weaver: And I hope with some new government the people will be able to find some jobs and things will pick up.
Spitzer: You know I have a slogan if you’ve seen the TV ads it says bring a little passion back to Albany, not a little, bring passion back to Albany, some passion, I forget what it says.
REPORTER: Republican William Weld said this week that upstate needs jobs, not passion. How to hit on the right economic engine for upstate New York has been bedeviling statewide politicians for years.
Keib: Welcome to Erie Canal Museum and the beautiful sunny city of Syracuse this afternoon!
REPORTER: The Erie canal came up a lot this week. As Michelle Keib, the Director of the canal museum pointed out, the canal, once derided as Governor Dewitt Clinton’s “ditch,” not only created booms in cities like Syracuse, whose population grew from 200 to 11,000 after the canal was built. It also made New York City what it is today but making it the pre-eminent port to the interior United States.
Spitzer: We need the modern equivalent of the Erie canal today. We have not had anybody in Albany who’s had the courage, the wisdom, the foresight the intensity to overcome the gridlock to get us moving in a direction that will build the economy for the future.
REPORTER: But what IS the Erie Canal of the 21st Century? Spitzer describes it as linking intellectual capital with technology – making New York the home of the next Silicon Valley, or Research Triangle. The details aren’t clear. What are Eliot’s Spitzer’s priorities when he gets into office? That’s a question Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi likes to ask. Reporters queried Spitzer on the campaign bus.
Spitzer: If you look at the aggregate weight of the speeches I’ve given, 8 or 9 serious, lengthy, dare I say turgid speeches about policy.
REPORTER: His press secretary, Christine Anderson, interrupts to tell him not to use that word.
Spitzer: I kind of like it, five letters, boring, you know, six across, it’s um. Anderson: I see visionary Spitzer: There we go, turgid visionary.
REPORTER: But even so, the exact policies are murky.
Spitzer: I’ve said d all along you start with the right people. Bernstein: And then what? Spitzer: And then you put the policies in place, on energy I’ve said you need article ten.
REPORTER: Spitzer’s promises are all based on the premise that HE can change the culture of Albany. But almost all the Albany insiders are backing him. The local elected assembly members were at every rally. As Spitzer greeted each one, there was no sense they were part of the problem.
Spitzer: You know I just want to say, you know I generalize about this state, the magnitude of the problems, I want to say about Paul Tokasz, somebody that breaks that mold, Paul why don’t you come up
REPORTER: Still, for now, the deep well of good will Spitzer has created is carrying him far. At an ice cream social in Saratoga, a pancake breakfast in Fayetteville, a meeting with Dairy farmers in Rome, a coffee shop in Lowville, Spitzer is being treated like he already has the job.
Man: Hello Mr. Governor. Spitzer: No, not net, five months to go.
REPORTER: Spitzer still has to run a primary against Nassau County executive Tom Suozzi, who also uses Tom Petty’s song “I won’t back down” to introduce his rallies. If he wins, he’ll run in November against Republicans William Weld or John Faso. But for now, Spitzer is a happy man. It is all, to use one of his favorite words, “spectacular.”