On the 127th day, the governor said, "Let there be light." And there was light. Battered by a secretive budget process that left him looking hypocritical — or worse, just plain typical — Gov. Eliot Spitzer has thrown back the curtains to the proverbial smoky back room where Albany deals have long been made.
On the 127th day, the governor said, "Let there be light." And there was light.
Battered by a secretive budget process that left him looking hypocritical — or worse, just plain typical — Gov. Eliot Spitzer has thrown back the curtains to the proverbial smoky back room where Albany deals have long been made.
Once a week for the past three weeks, the governor has gathered top lawmakers around a broad felt-topped table in his ceremonial Red Room to discuss top issues, as cameras roll and rows of reporters look on.
What they've witnessed has not been pretty. There's been plenty of theatrics, lots of egotistical flourishes and a few acts of childishness. There are reasons, after all, why these guys never did this in the daylight.
But, you know, it just might be working.
At the very least, the face-to-face proximity forces the leaders to be more accountable for the charges and allegations they usually fling around in news conferences with no fear of rebuttal. Likewise, it airs some of the petty rivalries and jealousies that weigh so heavily on decisions made within these halls.
We, for example, can see for ourselves how Spitzer's frequent boasts about winning Democratic control of the state Senate have helped poison talks with Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, R-Brunswick.
"I know we're targets," Bruno complained in the first meeting. "But every week I read that we're going to be taken out. I'm just saying!"
Then, there were the simple revealing moments, like when Bruno made a kissy face at Assembly Minority Leader JimTedisco, after the Schenectady Republican praised Spitzer.
Or when Spitzer broke up a spat between Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, by interjecting: "This is my room and we'll play by my rules." I mean, who would say that other than the guy who had also declared himself an "(expletive) steamroller?"
After two sessions of such, um, honesty, it looked like this whole sunlight thing might just blow up in Spitzer's face. Bruno called the meetings a "total waste of time" and threatened to sit out the next one.
But by the time the group reconvened last week, their bluster seemed spent. Suddenly, they decided to suppress some ego and get down to business.
The discussion revealed that — once the rhetoric was stripped away — the leaders weren't that far apart on issues that had hung fire for years.
If Spitzer could find some definition of "clean coal" that satisfied both parties, then maybe, just maybe, he could end a long standoff over the siting of new power plants.
If he beefed up protections for the wrongly accused, perhaps the Assembly would pass his Senate-backed proposal to create a criminal DNA database.
The Senate Republicans even showed some willingness to consider a couple of the myriad gun-control proposals annually approved in the Assembly.
So was this a breakthrough or just a high point on Spitzer's roller-coaster tenure in Albany?
We may know in as little as 25 days. That's when lawmakers will pack up and go home whether or not Spitzer's agenda sees the light of day.
Brendan Scott covers Albany for the Times Herald-Record. His column runs Mondays. Read blog and other Albany coverage on recordonline.com's "Can This State Be Saved?" page. Reach him at 518-463-1157 or by e-mail at email@example.com.