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May 2002

Spitzer addresses business leaders at annual State Chamber Dinner

More than 575 leaders from New York State businesses, state government, and local chambers of commerce attended The Business Council's annual State Chamber Dinner May 13 in Albany.

New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was the keynote speaker at the dinner, which The Council, as New York's statewide chamber, conducts each year to honor the state's local and regional chambers of commerce. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver also spoke briefly at the dinner.

In his keynote address, Spitzer said he enjoys and appreciates a strong working relationship with The Business Council marked by a "good, healthy, principled discussion of issues."

He emphasized the importance of New York's business community. "Those of us in government who have programs that we believe in, who have laws to enforce, can never forget that, without the risks that you take, without the vitality and brilliance of the private sector, New York would not be the Empire State," Spitzer said.

Spitzer's remarks focused on two issues facing society: the need for creative responses to the new challenge of terrorism, and the need to respond to what he called a broad "crisis of accountability" that he said is affecting some businesses, charities, law firms, and the Roman Catholic church.

Terrorism, he said, reminds us that the nation cannot bask in past victories of American free-market democracy over challenges from socialism, fascism, and other approaches to government. The Sept. 11 atrocity, he said, represents a renewed challenge from "a new fanaticism" that does not share American values or respond to traditional deterrents. He urged New York's business leaders to help conceive creative ways to respond to this new threat.

Spitzer said questions about accountability in business are based partly on the perception, which followed the Enron bankruptcy, that "the core accuracy and integrity of financial and corporate reporting was suspect."

He said current concerns about institutional accountability recall the famous warning from former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-New York) that society was "defining deviancy down" by tolerating personal conduct that formerly was considered intolerable. The phrase that once referred to increasing tolerance for law-breaking and personal irresponsibility may now describe breakdowns in ethics and standards of conduct in some institutions, Spitzer said.

He challenged business leaders to help restore public confidence in major business institutions.