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For New York governor: Eliot Spitzer

New York is a mess, and we don't need to list the reasons. You already know them.

You also know that a governor can't fix everything.

But a governor can do a lot. For starters (as our article last week, "Reforming from the Governor's Mansion," noted), the governor could refuse to participate in the three-man cabal that runs this state.

This is a crucial time for New York. The state has taken on a crippling debt load. The needs of New Yorkers --- particularly those of us in Upstate --- are great. What the state needs most in a governor is a strong leader, willing to make the necessary reforms and able to build public support for some very expensive, essential initiatives.

It seems inevitable that Attorney General Eliot Spitzer will be the next governor, and it wouldn't take much for him to be an improvement over George Pataki. But New York needs more than that. Both Spitzer and his challenger in the September 12 Democratic primary, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, have a lot to offer. With some reservation, we're endorsing Spitzer.

We could have gone the other way. Suozzi and other critics point to Spitzer's support by powerful interests. With Spitzer, they say, we'll get business as usual, not the reform that we desperately need. Particularly troubling for us is Spitzer's refusal to debate Suozzi more than once. That's traditional for candidates who, like Spitzer, have a strong lead in the polls, but that's just the point. New York needs change in politics, not "tradition."

We're also concerned by Spitzer's embrace of the death penalty in cases involving terrorism and the murder of a police officer. Suozzi, like this newspaper, opposes the death penalty under any circumstances. And strangely, in the sole debate between the two, Spitzer said he is opposed to the medical use of marijuana.

Suozzi has built a strong record in NassauCounty, and we support his stand on many issues. We disagree on several important ones, however: he opposes same-sex marriage, which Spitzer supports. He is opposed to state funding for stem-cell research. And by unequivocally endorsing the business community's Unshackle Upstate proposal, he shows that he doesn't understand the complexity of such issues as workers' compensation.

Overall, we're more impressed with Spitzer, particularly with the depth at which he has discussed such issues as education funding, Medicaid reform, and the rejuvenation of cities. He doesn't suggest the easy, politically sexy way of reducing the cost of Medicaid. Many critics insist that we change eligibility limits so that middle-income people can't use Medicaid to pay for long-term care. Instead, Spitzer cautions: "the fact is that very few families have the resources to pay the costs of nursing home care on their own." And he urges programs that will help the frail and ill elderly stay in their homes, with access to medical and other services.

Like Suozzi, he wants a nonpartisan group to draw legislative district lines. He is calling for major campaign-finance reform. He proposes "a blanket ban on contributions to state candidates from those who do business with the state."

And unlike Suozzi, he has put forth a 10-page issues paper on the revitalization of New York's cities. He says he wants a "cabinet-level position responsible for urban issues as well as a newly formed Office of Urban Revitalization within the Department of Economic Development." He would put money into downtown development programs, expand the clean-up of brownfields, promote the development of college campuses in downtown areas, and foster improvements in such areas as transportation to rein in suburban sprawl.

It is certainly possible that under Spitzer, business as usual will continue in Albany. It is possible that while both he and Suozzi preach reform, Spitzer's talk is just talk, and Suozzi's the real deal. There's also no guarantee that either Democrat will be willing or able to knock enough heads together to get things done.

Spitzer has proved to be the stronger candidate, however. It's the public, after all, that continues to give him those strong poll numbers. The next governor will need that public strength to muscle New York's governmental structures into submission.