Gov. Eliot Spitzer, whose plan to grant illegal immigrants driver’s licenses has encountered widespread opposition among New York State voters and politicians, announced yesterday that Richard A. Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism czar, had endorsed the proposal.
In a news conference at New York University, Governor Spitzer highlighted Mr. Clarke’s support as he sought to allay concerns that the proposal would make it easier for criminals or even prospective terrorists to obtain government identification. Mr. Clarke did not appear at the news conference, but he issued a statement, which Governor Spitzer’s staff released:
“From a law enforcement and security perspective, it is far preferable for the state to know who is living in it and driving on its roads, and to have their photograph and their address on file, than to have large numbers of people living in our cities whose identity is totally unknown to the government,” Mr. Clarke’s statement said in part.
At the news conference yesterday morning, Governor Spitzer said he was unconcerned about a recent poll that showed that more than 70 percent of voters disapproved of his plan.
“I don’t base security decisions about the state of New York based on polling numbers,” the governor said.
He continued: “When I decide something is important for our security, I’ll do it if it’s right, if it’s constitutional, and it’s legal and it’s necessary. I also feel that those poll questions were structured in a way that was almost designed to get to that answer. I think if people listened to an articulation based on facts and based upon what we intend to do, they will recognize that this is smart security policy and probably support it.”
Governor Spitzer said he would begin implementing the plan by December, with the full range of changes to be completed by the middle of next year. “There is no delay, and we are doing this methodically and carefully to ensure that every step is done properly,” he said.
Some county clerks, who issue licenses in many counties, have voiced opposition to the plan, as has former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Republican who is running for president.
The governor has been steadfast so far, but some fellow Democrats have said they are worried that his stance could have high political costs.
Even before Mr. Clarke’s statement, some security experts had spoken favorably of the plan, saying it was a way to bring a hidden population into the open and ultimately make the identification system more secure, as well as a way to ensure more drivers are licensed and insured.