Panel Transcript – Can Upstate Cities Save Themselves? (3)


JULIA VITULLO-MARTINJ: We have about 15 minutes, a little bit more for Q and A. So, you can address your questions to a specific panel member or to the panel in general. Yes. Oh, and would you give your name and affiliation.

SHAWN HOGAN: I’m Shawn Hogan, Mayor of the City of Hornell, New York in the southern tier. And my question is to Rolf. Rolf, I’ve been mayor of the city for 22 years so I’ve seen a lot of changes and most of them not good. I remember back when I was growing up in the southern tier, Senator Robert Kennedy fought hard to place the southern tier into the Appalachian regional commission because our economies matched those of the Appalachian region of Kentucky and Mississippi and Georgia and places like that. Actually, since 1964, our population loss and our economy is actually worse that it was in 1964 here. Unfortunately, Hornell is one of the bright spots. We maintained our railroad infrastructure and now we’re the nation’s largest supplier of transit cars to cities such as New York City, Washington and Chicago. But I just have some trepidation because of what I see as the upstate policy which is: follow the Thruway, follows the Erie Canal. And, the southern tier is forgotten wasteland. And the policy, and I’ve been to many conferences, many economic-development conferences and they are always about Binghamton, nothing else in the southern tier and then (always about) the Thruway corridor. How do we change that? How do we get some attention to our area?

ROLF PENDALL: Well, one thing that I heard, in fact, at the end of the series, the Brookings series, when we were rapping it up, we did a series of policy discussions in Buffalo, Syracuse and in Corning. Actually, we had it in Corning instead of in Binghamton to draw more people from throughout the southern tier. One thing that I heard about there that I wasn’t aware of previously, was that the state agencies all carve Upstate New York into their own sort of crazy quilt. And so, you don’t necessarily have one stop and also, the people from the state agencies don’t necessarily even know each other, even when they’re working in the same district. So, I think a question like that, perhaps could be followed up with an answer like, maybe we need to look at how the geography of Southern New York of the southern tier, I mean, is being treated within the state agencies. And think about aligning and realigning those state agencies boundaries. That’s just one idea. And I think, in the process of doing that, you immediately say, well, they’re clearly economic development things, transportation issues, cross border issues with Pennsylvania. There are all sorts of things that, you know, we have a lot of focus on the Great Lakes now. And a lot of environmental issues going on with the Great Lakes, the counties and the jurisdictions bordering the Great Lakes, so, with that kind of consciousness of tiering and the northern tier in Pennsylvania being sort of a twin for New York State, I think that would be a start. I don’t think that would be the end of it. But having a sense or regional consciousness that’s reflective in this state policy would certainly not hurt.

JOHN NORQUIST: It sounds like your community has done a little bit better than some of the others, but I was just really struck by when you said, I’ve been mayor for 22 years, lots of changes, most not good, how do you put that on your campaign literature. That’s a tough one. I’ll just make a point. It’s not that other issues aren’t important. You know, whenever you say this is something to think about, then say well, what about this, this and this and this. But in Milwaukee, I’m really proud that we stayed off Bruce Katz’s list. So we have like 6,000 new housing units in the downtown. The downtown looks pretty good. That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of the same problems. There’s all kinds of stuff. But we did manage to do that. When you’re measuring these northern industrial cities, you kind of look for where you can find it. Like Utica, the refugee strategy seems to have worked. But, my point is just looking at the state agencies, looking at the boundaries all that stuff, the state agencies aren’t driving your economy. I mean that’s a thing that’s back from Rockefeller, it was a bipartisan thing. You know? every problem the state had is the state agency can do this or that. And if you look at Buffalo, the state agency screwed Buffalo, horribly. Not by inattention, by attention. You look at all those -it’s on Lake Erie, it’s beautiful. There’s a built realm in the downtown. The Golden Dome building and all these beautiful buildings. And it’s separated by this Robert Moses’ concrete. They took this beautiful boulevard they had, Holmstead Boulevard and sunk in the ground to build a Thruway. I mean, Buffalo just was decanted. It was eviscerated by the State. I can just see it back then. The state Assembly people and the state Senators from Buffalo, back then they had more than one. And they went down to Albany and said we want our share. And you go to the waterfront, and there’s this building that looks like it belongs in the South Bronx back in the 70’s. It’s on the waterfront. Public housing right there out on the waterfront. You have housing assisted by the city with no public access next to the lake. I mean, it’s mangled. The state agency -the last thing you should want is any more attention from the state agency. Go home. Go back. Cut the taxes. Do something. But don’t give more attention. You’re not – if the federal government and the state government start planning your economy, I mean the Warsaw pack did that for, you know, 45 years. It didn’t work.

JULIA VITULLO-MARTIN: Next question. Oh, yes. Oh, hi Dick. Can you come over to the microphone.

DICK NATHAN: Okay, I don’t know whom this question is for. Whether it’s for Kate or E.J. or who it’s for. This is an excellent panel. You all did a good job. I think about something that’s not on the panel. And it is? how do we get people to think about living in Upstate New York. I love New York is about coming here to visit ’cause it is beautiful, particularly so many things to do here. So much history. So much wonderful natural attributes. When we recruit young faculty members, I was doing that for a while, we could tell them, you want a good place to raise kids, the housing is relatively inexpensive and the taxes, if you take it into account in terms of the cost of the housing, we have an asset in that respect, too. Good schools, no commutation problems. So, I wonder if other people have, and I know that the governor’s going to work on this, live in New York. How do you get -that’s what I hear a lot of you saying. More people should live here. We’re aging out and we need younger people to come in. How do we tell and sell that? That’s going to be your next good conference or do people here have inspiration, Mayor Norquist, others about how you spread the word, maybe in a different way. Instead of chasing smokestacks, telling people about lifestyle advantages.


JOHN NORQUIST: They are noticed. I was in an elevator in Buffalo in a hotel about three months ago. I was waiting for an elevator and there was a guy next to me, who was Canadian, and we were just talking about it and then we skipped the elevator and kept talking. And he was there looking at real estate because he thought, he’s from Toronto, he sees all the real estate. This looks like pretty good. The prices are much lower. And Rochester, there’s similar attitudes. The mayor had the right, the old mayor Bill Johnson, had the right idea about trying to connect with Toronto but it didn’t take a, whatever, $60 million subsidy for a boat. I was in Toronto yesterday talking to them. Why didn’t they have anything to do with it. Well, the boat was way too expensive. So they didn’t want to be part of the deal. But they do boats in Toronto all the time. They have the islands and they have little boats, which are sea worthy. And they could have had one of those boats go over very little amount of money and would have created a psychological connection to beautiful Rochester. I mean, Rochester’s architecture is fabulous. But you have three and a half million people just in the city of Toronto. The metro area five million people. It’s just across the border. Hamilton, a half a million people. There’s Cleveland, there’s Erie, there’s New York State, the connections to these population centers – I would have ten trains a day between Buffalo and New York City. That would be a good thing to do. There’s a lot of money in New York City. People would see it. They’d think it was beautiful. I think there’s just sort of forgotten it’s there. And Buffalo’s focused a lot on stuff like expanding their money losing convention center, taking tax paying property to do it. You know, one thing after another. Ideas that are founded on the idea there’s something terribly wrong with Buffalo. So the government intervenes, tears stuff down, you know, moves stuff out of the way. The stuff that’s wrong is the interventions over the last 50 years or so. There’s just been one bad one after another.

KATHRYN FOSTER: Just one comment that people-the reputation of Buffalo is horrifically worse than the reality of Buffalo. And that’s a shame because when you’re there and you get brought there, recruited there, whatever, you think you don’t want to go. And then you wind up with Paul’s story or my story, which is 15 years later you’re still there, because it’s imminently livable and it’s really has an incredible sense of place and identity. So, you come, you don’t get away. But it occurs to me that, and Rich, you’ll help with this a lot, too, the reason people say they can’t live in New York State or live in these Upstate cities, is because the labor markets aren’t thick enough, that they’re too afraid they’ll lose. Once they lose the one job they came for, even if it’s a dream job, there’s not another one to move to. It’s not like a public policy person. It’s not like being in Washington D. C. where, you know, okay, my place goes under, I’ll go to another place. So that’s what you hear about. It’s not the quality of life. It’s not all of these other assets that John and others are talking about, which are spectacular, if not wholly put together yet. But it’s the labor market. Rich, you’re probably better at that than I am. I don’t want to go on too much further.

RICHARD DEITZ: Well, I mean, I think, look the research suggest on location decisions that climate matters a lot, so, I mean, you got to at least face reality. And there’s not that much you can do about that, but the thickness of the labor market definitely is important. And I mean, for example, we tried to hire somebody recently and they were looking for a job with their fiancĂ©. And the both of them had job offers in D.C. and only one of them had a job offer in Buffalo. So, smaller cities face this all the time. Not all smaller cities are faced with the multitude of problems that we have, but it’s definitely a factor.

JOHN NORQUIST: We tied ourselves closer to Chicago in that respect, where the Chicago job market, it’s 90 miles away. Seven trains a day going back and forth. It’s psychologically the connection between Milwaukee and Chicago.

RICHARD DEITZ: I mean, that’s got to be a lot harder to do in Upstate New York, especially because the climate, you know, driving a snowstorm an hour from Buffalo to Rochester is a little…

ROLF PENDALL: And you can’t find a single town that sends more than five percent of its residents, for example, to both Buffalo and Rochester to the cities to work. We have just too much, a little bit too much separation among all these cities to make any location satisfactory for capturing both of the metropolitan economies of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and so on the Thruway. Sorry, to leave out the southern tier, but?

DANIEL MCKAY: A great panel, once again. There are significant changes. I’m sorry, Daniel McKay, with the Preservation League of New York State. There are significant changes proposed to both the Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit as well as changes already proposed to the State Rehabilitation Tax Credit for historic and commercial and residential properties. And I’m wondering if you could talk about the impact that we have tax credits play in revitalizing cities in the stock, historic stock that so many of these cities have.

JOHN NORQUIST: They have an impact, historic preservation helps people to discover beautiful urban neighborhoods and you have the risk, unaware young people, gays, so forth, that’ll congregate in a particular urban community because they love the design of the neighborhood or whatever. And then you get the risk takers, the developers start coming in. And that’s happening in Buffalo. We’re getting a lot of rehab, Rochester even Detroit has some neighborhoods where that’s happening. And then eventually, you get calculated risk takers, more standard mainstream developers. And then, eventually, you know you’ve reached the market, the peak of the market, the dentists start investing. That’s Brooklyn Heights.

EILEEN MURRAY: Hi, my name is Eileen Murray and I work for one of the state housing agencies here in Albany. Also, I have a question that I came across trying to address with other community groups on [inaudible]? And I’d like to just mention one of the quotes that I have from you, “Not for profits don’t belong in the housing business.” In the city of Albany, 37 percent of the renters, 9,300 households, had incomes in the year 2000 below $15,000. Now when you deduct the population there that’s in public housing Section 8 and the students, you still have a substantial number of renters in our cities who do not have anywhere near the income to be in housing supported by unassisted private developers. And I would hope that you would address that challenge in our upstate cities. Thank you.

JOHN NORQUIST: I would raise the earned income credit supplement from the state so that people would have more money in their pocket to buy what they need. If you just focus it on housing, you’re just going to raise housing prices and that price will go up and?

EILEEN MURRAY: I did meant to say, I would much prefer a living wage for all people in the State of New York and get rid of all of us who deal with this housing subsidy and all the other complexes that we have to do. But, absent the reality of that, even if you bring their incomes up to $20,000, you’re still not going to be able to let them operate successfully in the private sector housing markets. So again?

JOHN NORQUIST: Yeah, the most efficient thing then to do if you couldn’t do a increase the earned income credit, the next most efficient thing would be to give people a housing voucher or allowance or whatever that is much like a wage supplement as possible. But if you start, the most inefficient thing, the one the developers like the most is, you know, housing, tax credits, all that stuff, the money just bleeds all over the place. And you get a little bit of housing out of it. Developers sort of like it. Although, they know, every time they’re in one of these programs, in means lots of meetings. That is what Oscar Wild said, the trouble with socialism, it takes up too many evenings. And that’s the way developers look at it.

JULIA VITULLO-MARTIN: So, we have time for one last question.

BLAIR SEBASTIAN: I’m Blair Sebastian with the Royal Housing Coalition. My interest is, Rich kind of started it with this by looking at things regionally. But as we talk about upstate cities, I can’t help but ask about the relationship between upstate cities and their hinterlands. I’m a southern, western southern tier boy myself, and I kind of see what the mayor is saying. I lived in Appalachia, in the southern tier of New York. But, Buffalo and Rochester were our principal market areas when we lived in that southern tier. But we had local economies as well. You know, with the hierarchal sort of market approach. I know, there’s a bunch of questions here. One of them is we see there were housing folks in the impact on rural markets, the exodus of folks from the cities to the suburban and [unintelligible] sort of the markets and changing those markets. But I’m interested in the thinking that we’ve had in terms of these questions regionally and how the hinterlands are going to relate to the redevelopment of these cities. And is there a future for the small cities, you know, Salamanca, which got much bigger, and Rolf’s map, I found to be encouraging. I don’t know whether the casino did that or how that happened. But the relationship between those smaller cities and the hinterlands and the redevelopment of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica.

ROLF PENDALL: Well, when I looked at the data and lots and lots of data on cities and villages in upstate. The cities that are losing the most population are clearly the largest ones. And the villages that are losing population are the smallest ones. So there seems to be a comfortable size of incorporated area in which things- if you have an economy of scale, to a certain extent- to operate things as a city, you have a certain amount of capacity to do things to plan to work together. And then, there may be diseconomy of scale at larger ends of the spectrum. So I’d say to a certain extent, maybe some of these smaller cities, and especially the villages throughout upstate New York, they have certain advantages that might be brought together with, you know, I said this two or three years ago, some kind of a campaign for upstate villages or for small cities. Not that we don’t need a lot of help for the big cities too, but I think you could get a strong enough coalition going with great images. You know, I think about Trumansburg, which is near where I live in Ithaca, you come into this village and you know that you’re in a really different place than you were in when you were in the rural area. It makes the rural area more beautiful. It makes the village more beautiful, too. And, you know, in a sense, these are the places that weren’t destroyed by the bad decisions of urban renewal in the 1950’s that Mayor Norquist has chronicled and many of you know about first hand, too. So, what’s the relationship between them. I think they’re integral. I think upstate New York’s image could rely more, if not exclusively on both the image of the beauty in the rural areas and the history and the character in the small cities and the villages. That’s a piece of the picture that ought to be treated as kind of a separate project, I think. From project of the larger cities where, you know, really the issues of race and concentrated poverty, I think, are things that really need to be brought to the fore. And I think it would be unfortunate to leave either of those conversations alone while getting to the other, but mixing them up would also be, I think, probably strategically a difficult move if we want revitalization in both areas.

JOHN NORQUIST: I agree with that I would just say it a little differently. The quality- the rural villages- the smaller villages should focus on quality rather than growth. They shouldn’t try to hotwire their economy because they’re not big enough really to measure an economy. But the beauty of the communities is one of their greatest assets, if not their greatest assets. The history, all the story telling, all these things are important. And also, the people that already live there will generally love it. So, that’s a good reason to do it. I wanted to mention one thing though, the race thing. I think it’s important to understand it. That it’s America’s original sin. All this sort of thing. For the cities, it tough. Having been a mayor of a city with about 38 percent African American population and 13 percent Hispanic population, all these are really important issues. But you can’t lead with them all the time. It gets to the point where, you know the compassionate care thing doesn’t sell real estate or merchandise or anything else. And African Americans are really valuable people. They did a lot of work for the United States without getting paid, for a long time. And this whole idea, you don’t want to get it- I had a really bitter argument at once with Jonathan Rusk, Dean Rusk’s kid. What’s his name? David Rusk. You know, and he didn’t really mean it. And he changed his argument after we had this debate. But he was saying that he had this distress thing when your black population goes over 30 percent, that’s a sign of community decline. And I said, you can’t say that. That’s ridiculous. You know, Senegal has- Dakar, Dakar is almost 100 percent black and it’s a very great city. So, it’s just really a tricky subject to get into. And it’s real negative. Now, the school?

ROLF PENDALL: But the fact, I’m sorry, the fact that it’s tricky to get into, it often leads people like us, people who are of our skin color, not to get into it at all and not to mention?

JOHN NORQUIST: But I’ll-let me just go into schools then real quick. Let’s do that. We went for county and metro areas consolidation. They didn’t want it. You go to the legislature. They have more votes. They blocked it. It became fruitless. I was the biggest advocate when I was in the legislature for a metropolitan school district. The only way you can get it is to trick people, like they did in Indianapolis. They tricked them. They said it’s just for the municipal services. It’s not for the schools. As soon as the thing passed, bam, all these guys knew, they knew it was going to happen. And the court said it had to be county wide. Nobody will ever get tricked again on that. The Cook decision in Detroit. The decision in Milwaukee by the very liberal federal judge who had two kids in the all white school system in White Fish Bay, and felt that those Polish people in Milwaukee were racist and need to be jammed into these schools. And in the city, racism started and ended wherever black people lived. That was the attitude. And it was sick. And we tried dealing with it all these other ways. And finally, we went to school choice because it got us out of the school choice system that Rochester has and Buffalo has, is if you’re have kids and money in your pocket, black or white, you leave town. You’re out of there. If you don’t have a lot of money, you’re still there. And that’s fine to some people because it’s a union school. If it’s in the suburbs, it’s a union school in the city so the Democrats all go dumb. They don’t say a word. Well, we didn’t do that in Milwaukee. And it was the black politicians and the activists in the inner city that led the fight. And then we ended up, we had the suburban coalition from the suburbs ’cause it was a way for them to screw the teachers’ union. That was their motive. So, we had a coalition. We didn’t ask them. They didn’t have to be idealist to be on our side. We won. It changed the whole equation. All of a sudden you’ll live in Milwaukee and you can go to public, private or parochial school and not just in the choice program, but the charter program we had it where, without income limits on that part of it. That snuck through. So we have about 7,000 kids in the charter program, which is also a voucher program, but no religious schools. And then, 15,000 in the religious schools with an income cap at 200 percent of the poverty line. All of a sudden, there’s reasons to live in the city. You don’t have to-oh, I’ve got a three year old, I’ve got to leave town. You hear that all the time. In Detroit, I get around the old Tiger Stadium. You’ve got people living in these warehouse lofts that have the cafĂ© latte. They’ve got all the stuff they need. They can get their nails done, all this. The kids, three years old-my God, we got to go to McCone County immediately. We don’t want our kids in the Detroit Public Schools. And so, they get the school choice. But how do you think that feels if you’re poor and a minority. As soon as anybody has a kid, wham, they run away from you as fast as possible. They move out of town. In Milwaukee, they live in the same town or they can. And that changed the equation. Changing it in Washington. Ask Tony Williams, who used to be mayor, who used to oppose school choice, finally supported it. Now there’s these more options. And that’s what Rochester and Buffalo ought to look at. If you want to have a city where people want to live who have kids, then try school choice vouchers.

JULIA VITULLO-MARTIN: Thank you, John. It’s good to end on an incendiary note. Now, we’re going to switch E.J and Mayor Duffy are coming up.