Dropping License Plan Wins Praise for Spitzer
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE and RAYMOND HERNANDEZ
The New York Times
Published: November 15, 2007
WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 A day after abandoning his proposal to give driver licenses to illegal immigrants, Gov. Eliot Spitzer won the kind of wide acclaim from elected officials that he could not win for the proposal itself.
From Albany to Capitol Hill, Democratic politicians voiced public words of praise and breathed private sighs of relief at Mr. Spitzer announcement that he would scuttle the proposal, after a bitter seven-week battle that battered the governor and turned New York into a battleground over illegal immigration.
congratulate you, governor, for the attempt, said Representative Charles B. Rangel, a Manhattan Democrat, at a news conference with Mr. Spitzer and some members of Congress who, like Mr. Rangel, had supported his original plan. he idea was right, the timing was wrong.
In acknowledging one of his first major reversals as governor, Mr. Spitzer did not spare his harshest critics, who he said had inflamed the debate with anti-immigrant rhetoric that quated minimum-wage, undocumented dishwashers with Osama bin Laden. He also said he still believed his proposal would have benefited New Yorkers, citizens and immigrants alike, and lit into federal officials for failing to fix the nation immigration system.
But Mr. Spitzer was also more conciliatory than he had been, conceding that he had tried but failed to win over skeptics.
am here today to respond to the vast majority of New Yorkers of good will who have heard my best case and yet still disagree with my proposal, he said.
The governor formal announcement followed a private breakfast with New York Congressional delegation. By most accounts, Mr. Spitzer seemed chastened, telling delegation members that he had come to the conclusion that his proposal was simply not sustainable in the current climate.
One participant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the closed-door meeting, said Mr. Spitzer had come off as arrogant on past visits to Washington, but not on this one. e was like, tried and it didn work out, the participant said.
Some of Mr. Spitzer most ardent antagonists were unwilling on Wednesday to give him credit for the change of mind. Joseph L. Bruno, the Republican majority leader of the State Senate, issued a statement criticizing the governor for the weeks in which he resisted public opinion on the issue.
ltimately, it took an uprising from within his own party to force him to back down today, Mr. Bruno charged.
Among Democrats, however, Mr. Spitzer decision won praise not only from moderates who thought his plan was extreme and would hurt the party in 2008, but also from liberals who were displeased with the concessions he had already made to placate opponents, including giving citizens and legal immigrants access to a different type of license than illegal immigrants.
give real credit to the governor for coming in and acknowledging that it wasn the right time for this, said Representative Michael Arcuri, a first-term Democrat from central New York who had opposed the plan. Mr. Spitzer, he added, howed real mettle.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has taken fire in recent weeks for failing to make clear whether she supported Mr. Spitzer plan, was not present at the delegation breakfast. But she issued a statement Wednesday afternoon in which she expressed support for Mr. Spitzer decision and stated that licenses for illegal immigrants would not be on her own future agenda.
s president, I will not support drivers licenses for undocumented people and will press for comprehensive immigration reform that deals with all of the issues around illegal immigration, Mrs. Clinton said.
Mr. Spitzer and his aides have also said they are postponing the second most controversial element of his plan: the adoption of a federally recognized driver license, known as a Real ID, that would not be available to illegal immigrants.
Mr. Spitzer announcement last month that New York would sign on to the Real ID program had been a major coup for federal homeland security officials, who have been urging states to adopt the program but faced resistance.
But on Wednesday, Mr. Spitzer and his aides said that New York adoption of the new license would ultimately depend on the federal regulations issued for its implementation next year, and whether the Bush administration could ultimately persuade other states to come along.
ow can it be a nationally secure driver license if only 10 states are going to it? In which case, it would make the entire debate academic, said Michael A. L. Balboni, the governor top homeland security aide. he federal government has a tremendous amount of work to do to convince the nation that Real ID was truly the way to secure this nation air travel.
But in an interview, Michael Chertoff, the secretary for the federal Department of Homeland Security, said that in a conversation with the governor on Wednesday morning, Mr. Spitzer gave no indication that he was changing course on Real ID.
Mr. Chertoff cited a memorandum of understanding written with state officials last month. That memorandum, however, allows New York to back out of the agreement if state officials provide notice.
Danny Hakim contributed reporting from Albany.