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Governor Talkative


Governor George Pataki began his State of the State with a mild joke on himself. He warned that people "who have sat through the previous 9 hours and 46 minutes" of his SOTSs "know they tend to be long."

            No kidding. This year's masterpiece ran way past 8,000 words.

            The guv could have shortened the speech by keeping himself to one or two references to "freedom." The word appeared almost four dozen times.

            Now I love freedom as much as anyone. It's demagoguing I can't stand. And the governor's "remarks" smell of it. Once again he's abused the memory of the 9/11 dead by using them as rhetorical props for self-promotion.

            Demagogues and lies walk hand in hand, of course. And early in his speech, Pataki lied outright and often. He spoke about an imaginary "fight for freedom abroad." He said our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan "fought and died for the source of our unity, the bedrock of our democracy, and the promise of our future... fought and died for our freedom."

            OK, something like "died for a White House that lied about WMDs and a lot more" doesn't have the same ring to it.

            But I think he should just have mourned the dead and moved on.

I harp on this because the rest of SOTS 2004 is packed with lies.

            Example number one: Pataki is supposed to be making good on a court order to revamp public school aid, for the benefit of poor students in New York City and the rest of the Big Five districts. This is no academic exercise; the deadline is fast approaching.

            So what did Pataki say? Did he hail the downstate group whose lawsuit made all this happen? (Hint: When a lower court threw the lawsuit out at an earlier stage, Pataki said he was "pleased.") Did he talk turkey with his mostly well-plumed audience? Did he challenge New Yorkers to share the wealth that for decades has been seeping out to suburbia?

            No way. He bragged about how the state already spends more per capita on public education than any other state. He promised a new blue-ribbon bunch would come up with a funding formula that would solve the problem. He weaseled and wormed to perfection.

            Yes, he did say we "must throw out our archaic system" and adopt "fair, sustainable, and understandable" funding methods. But Pataki won't be ponying up the cash. In the SOTS, he rejected the "Robin Hood approach," calling it "divisive" (like we don't have divisions now?). Then he finger-wagged to the effect that "we must appropriately focus resources as they become available." In a state doomed to deficits till the cows, moose, and mountain lions come home, available is as trustworthy as "the dog ate my homework."

            Meanwhile, the prisons have been eating our young people alive. And Pataki, who not long ago was to prisons what the pharaohs were to pyramids, wants to keep this system running like a well-oiled guillotine.

            Well aware of what buttons to push, Pataki continues to talk about getting tough on crime. In his speech, he said once again we must "end parole for all felons." He wants to "lock up chronic misdemeanor offenders" and "get rid of the absurd technicalities that too often let criminals go free." That's right-wing code for repression.

            Well, at least he didn't brag about New York's death penalty law, the barbarism that he more than any other New Yorker is responsible for.

It's not all bad. Pataki did talk about an urban forestry initiative --- he shines when it comes to greenery --- and about restoring Buffalo's magnificent H.H. Richardson complex.

            But the governor's little nod to a Rochester "Renaissance Center" is no reason to beam. A combination bus terminal, performing arts center, and MCC expansion? I won't say don't hold your breath, because you'll need to, what with the diesel exhaust.

            To me the plan sounds like a bad tip on a trifecta. How come we're not upgrading the Auditorium Center-Armory-Eastman Dental Center area on East Main instead of hyping a new venue? And locating a bus terminal (if we even need one) where it belongs, with the trains? And renovating historic buildings at Main and Clinton for MCC?

            Please, Governor, sing me a song of public housing and higher wages, racial harmony, social progress.

            Help us forget the Renaissance Center. Turn on the lights at Genesee Hospital. You've got the power.