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Eliot Versus the Sloths

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Nothing dies faster in Albany than momentum. Already the old guard is murmuring that things aren’t all that bad: The state budget shows a surplus for 2007, and Medicaid spending has recently shown a minor downtick. What’s the rush to change things?

“For all the hoopla about the Berger report—and it’s a good report,” Spitzer says, “the total annual savings to the state in Medicaid is $250 million. Now, that’s out of a Medicaid budget of $46 billion. Frankly, it’s a rounding error. It isn’t the directional shift we need in terms of Medicaid spending.”

Spitzer is preparing to use his electoral mandate as a wedge to separate Bruno and Silver from their usually lockstep followers.

Spitzer sees the tar pit that will swallow him if he doesn’t hit Albany at a dead sprint. Last week, he staged a press conference to announce new ethics and fund-raising rules that he can implement unilaterally (Bruno swiftly dismissed it as grandstanding). He also showed he’s ready to go over the heads of leadership. “I spent five hours talking to the entire Assembly caucus—all of them,” Spitzer says. “Shelly was there, obviously. But he knows I’m dealing with his members. I’ve met with Joe. But I’ve spoken to lots of members of the Senate too.”

Spitzer’s team has spent hours debating ways to translate his huge electoral win into the kind of governing power that Bruno, Silver, and the lobbyists can’t ignore. One new angle will be helping the public literally watch the government. “I’m going to start insisting that we Webcast all sorts of meetings that until now have been pretty much conducted in isolation,” Spitzer says. “The meetings of the Public Service Commission? Put ’em on a Webcast, so anybody who cares about it will be able to watch it in real time. suny board? Webcast it.”

It’s a nice little start at rattling the “three men in a room” culture that’s ruled the state. But to change anything substantial, let alone everything, Spitzer will need to find more dramatic ways of bringing the 2.7 million people who voted for him into the room if he’s going to pin Bruno and Silver against a wall.

E-mail: chris_smith@nymag.com.


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