Home > Uncategorized > At Empire State: Two Heads Are Not Better Than One (originally posted 2008)

At Empire State: Two Heads Are Not Better Than One (originally posted 2008)

At Empire State:   Two Heads Are Not Better Than One

By Stuart H. Brody

Originally Posted on www.empirepage.com/whataboutupstate.com in April 2008

In government, an idea sometimes takes hold that promises a rare breakthrough in efficiency.   The downstate/upstate split of leadership at the Empire State Development Corporation seemed to some like such an idea.  In implementing it, Eliot Spitzer intended to highlight the specific needs of Upstate and ensure they would be seriously addressed. 

He hired two accomplished professionals to do the job or, should I say, jobs:  Pat Foye, who recently resigned, was the Downstate representative, and Dan Gunderson still serves as the Upstate representative. 

From the standpoint of execution, the idea has been a disaster.  Empire State Development—the key development arm of the State–has been crippled by competing philosophies and internal power struggles.  Anyone who has had the remotest dealings with ESD understands that a once effective state agency has languished into dysfunction and distracting turf wars. 

Yet, in an uncommonly fierce challenge, Unshackle New York and other Upstate advocacy groups have roundly criticized Governor Paterson’s decision to combine ESD efforts in to one leader.  Surely, these groups which have been so thoughtful, committed and accomplished in the service of Upstate, are aware of what’s going on at ESD.  Yet, they are calling out the militia in service of the wrong war.

The battle is not the number of heads at ESD, it’s the strength of the voice.  Far too often, as Upstate leaders know, the rhetoric from Downstaters has been patronizing, cliché driven and uninformed, but not from this Governor.   As Senator, then Lt. Governor, David Paterson has demonstrated both understanding of and commitment to Upstate challenges and has traveled extensively to assert both. 

As Governor, he has reemphasized his commitment to the Upstate Revitalization Fund, property tax reform, regionalization of economic development, environmental vigilance, Wicks law revision, energy reform and a host of other important Upstate concerns.   This record entitles him to deference in his organizational preference for one leader as well as  his choice of leader

While the idea of a powerful head of upstate development is symbolically attractive, it is largely a vacant gesture if ESD as a whole is not working affectively.   Clinging to a symbol which does not serve the cause it symbolizes is neither good strategy nor sound policy.  

As a fall back position, some groups have called for Dan Gunderson’s selection as the sole leader of ESD.  Dan Gunderson, coming to New York from Pennsylvania tirelessly traversed Upstate to gain an understanding of its issues, and has succeeded by most accounts admirably.  How ironic it would then be to dilute that focus by shifting him to the state-wide role.

This sudden flare-up over ESD leadership is a negative signal to New York and out-of-state business interests who must wonder what the fuss is about over implementing a standard business practice of consolidating executive power in one leader. 

After all, it’s the buck that stops at the second floor, not two 50 cent pieces.

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