The resignation by Governor Eliot Spitzer this week in the face of scandal has caused much confusion and concern. Spitzer’s time in office was mixed, but his election represented the hopes of New Yorkers to put decades of Republican rule in Albany behind them. He implemented some important progressive initiatives (like closing the loophole that threatened affordable housing in the State) and made some tragic concessions (big cuts to public hospitals).

Spitzer was not a unifier and several important efforts—like driver’s licenses for all New York residents— became victims of his go-it-alone style of work. Nevertheless, we should not let Spitzer’s offenses public or private be an excuse to abandon a people’s agenda at the State House. Quite the contrary, we need progressive policies more than ever.

The economic crisis in the country is not going anywhere soon and New Yorkers will feel the pinch more as the year progresses. The housing crisis continues with more foreclosures every week, and schools in New York City face a total crisis due to the $700 million in cuts proposed by Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

When David Paterson is sworn in he will be the first Black Governor in New York history. He brings a progressive political pedigree and strong ties with the labor and community movements.

In his March 13 press conference, Paterson identified the most important issues facing the state, 1) the decline in employment upstate; 2) sub-prime housing foreclosures;
3) the crisis of funding for public education in New York City.

These and other issues will be fought out during the current debate on the state budget. The Republican Party by Joe Bruno aims to balance balancing the books on the backs of working people. They used the Spitzer crisis to force an anti-people budget in the State Senate that enacts deep cuts in education, housing, health, and other public services.

But cuts to human services will not help the economy. Just the opposite. As working families’ fiscal conditions decline, they will spend less and further slow down the economy. Budget cuts and tax breaks for the rich may help a small minority ride out the recession, but the lives of the majority of New Yorkers will get worse.

A more just and effective approach is the proposal to increase taxes on millionaires. Spitzer torpedoed the measure, but now there is an opportunity to raise it again. Other progressive measures that were unable to move through the legislature can gain new life with a Paterson Administration if coupled with the grassroots support of labor and people’s movements.

We support calls by Working Families Party for a fair budget, including cuts to massive tax breaks for the rich and corporations. We oppose any cuts to programs that benefit the lives of working New Yorkers. We support cutting taxes that are regressive and unfairly burden those at the bottom of the economic ladder. This is real economic stimulus.

Unemployment compensation needs to be raised. The legislature should pass the Brennen Bill, which creates a one-year moratorium on housing foreclosures.

Furthermore, it is time for a massive public works and services program in New York to put the people back to work. We need to fix the bridges and tunnels, schools and hospitals, libraries and parks. Developing the State’s infrastructure will help the economy. Paying working people union wages to make it happen will help too.

But tipping the balance of forces in the State Senate is necessary to pass truly progressive legislation advancing the interests of working people of all races and nationalities from small towns to the big cities. That goal is more possible than ever given the excitement over the Presidential race, which is on the same ballot.

Defeating the Right in November, setting a progressive course for New York politics, and improving the lives of everyday people will not be the project of one great leader, of individual isolated organizations or of great ideas alone. It will take the broad unity of all working people in the state and the united organizations of the labor movement, grassroots communities, communities of color, women, immigrants, students, and others to turn the page on the Bush/Pataki/Bruno/Bloomberg years.

The governorship of David Paterson promises to be an improvement for all New Yorkers. We call on him to help unite a movement for New York’s future. Together we can make momentous change from the White House to the State House to our neighborhoods.

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