BUFFALO, N.Y. – New York's Democratic Party on Tuesday designated Eliot Spitzer as its candidate for governor.
In his acceptance speech, he spoke of his grandparents, all immigrants, coming to Ellis Island and his father, who rose from a New York City tenement to become an engineer.
"People from across the country and all over the world looked to our state about what is best in America," Spitzer said. "I still believe that if we give everyone the same opportunity and everyone acts with integrity and plays by the same rules, there is no limit to what we can achieve in this great state."
"Something needs to change in this state, and it needs to happen right now," he said, after entering the convention center to the strains of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down."
"Ours is a crisis of leadership," he said.
He promised to reform Albany's ethics, taxes and spending.
"We cannot afford to be cautious, we cannot afford to be quiet because you don't change the world by whispering," he said.
The 46-year-old attorney general who forced nationwide reforms of Wall Street and corporate America is the front-runner to be the first new governor in New York in 12 years.
Outside the Buffalo Convention Center where the party leaders met, Democrat Tom Suozzi was scheduled to continue his outsider campaign at about the same time as Spitzer's acceptance speech. He wants to force a September primary with Spitzer to become the party nominee in November. The Nassau County executive is seeking thousands of petitions to get on the ballot and refers to the Democratic convention as Spitzer's "coronation" by bosses of the state's largest party.
The next governor will take on a state beset by a flagging upstate economy in places like Buffalo, which has little of its former industrial might. After three terms of Republican Gov. George Pataki the next governor will also face New Yorkers' anger over the highest taxes and the deepest debt in the country, an exodus of young adults, and Albany's notorious political gridlock.
The new governor will also face a skeptical public.
"They all say the same thing, just in different words," said Maxamillion Han, a 24-year-old theater major from Staten island. "So you have to see what they do first before you judge them." Even so, he said, "I think the elections are generally a popularity contest."
New Yorkers interviewed in the days leading up the conventions underscored common themes in recent polls. Residents haven't lost hope in Albany, but they have low expectations. None had yet decided if Spitzer, Suozzi or Republicans John Faso or Bill Weld could do the job.
Last week, a poll by the nonpartisan New York Matters found nearly three-quarters of New Yorkers agreed state government is doing only a fair or poor job on 18 of 20 issues residents consider most important, including taxes, education and jobs. Marist College pollster Lee Miringoff found the electorate unusually "grumpy."
Polls have found more New Yorkers think the state is headed in the wrong direction. The highest priority for New Yorkers in most polls is not some new bold initiative, but simply lower taxes and reduced state debt.
The cynicism is clear in Albany where stalemate was often the result of more than a decade of the same Republican governor, the same Democratic Assembly leader and the same Republican Senate leader — all with low approval ratings.
"Give me everything free!" said 85-year-old Jane Mitchell of Albany County's Guilderland. The New York native insisted she wasn't joking now that she is living mostly on the sale of her family's home. She's tired of paying taxes for too little return.
"I'm on my way out and I want a little something before I go," she said, citing the need for a clear, reliable government prescription drug plan to lower her cost.
Carrie Ann Christie of Albany is a 27-year-old college graduate who, like many skilled and educated younger New Yorkers in "in between jobs." She leans Democratic, but considers herself an independent voter.
Schools are her priority. Although she is disappointed in the state's performance, she has a glint of optimism.
"Hopefully the next person who comes in will feel that way as well," she said, leaving her local public library.
"I tend to lean toward Spitzer," she said. "Just from what I've heard about him."
The Democrats designated Senate Minority Leader David Paterson of New York City, Spitzer's running mate, for lieutenant governor Tuesday morning.