Two New Yorks

Upstate desperately needs to divest itself of the City

I’m not one of the New Yorkers who writes here. But I’ve spent a lot of time in New York in the last decade.

New York State that is. Not New York City.

New York, probably more so than maybe any state other than California, is the state that shows the divide between urban policy and rural policy. And at no time has this been better expressed than during the current pandemic.

For those of you who are not familiar with New York governance, the state capital lies in Albany. However, the real power lies 150 miles to the south, in New York City. 95 of the 150 members of the New York State Assembly and 38 of the 63 members of the New York Senate represent New York City and its suburbs.

(I’m sure somebody will argue with me over those numbers, but I’m counting New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County as “New York City and its suburbs)

The Governor of New York? From Westchester County. Speaker of the Assembly? From New York City. Senate Majority Leader? From Westchester County. Attorney General? From New York City. Comptroller? From Nassau County.

The entire power structure of New York is from and focused on New York City and its surrounding suburbs. And that creates complications.

During the pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo has been inexplicably praised for New York’s response. Nevermind the fact that New York far exceeds any other state in the total number of COVID-19 deaths. Nevermind the fact that Cuomo’s own order regarding nursing homes was directly responsible for thousands of deaths in nursing homes. Nevermind the fact that Cuomo’s leadership has always been reactive instead of proactive.

During the pandemic, Cuomo has consistently implemented draconian policies aimed primarily at addressing issues in the New York City area. The latest of these draconian measures bans residents from 60% of the country (by number of states) from stepping foot in New York without registering with the state and self-quarantining. That might be advisable in high impact areas, though some dispute the veracity of their math. But the draconian measures applied throughout New York.

Were those restrictions necessary in Cooperstown, or Corning, or Elmira, or Herkimer? Of course not. But Cuomo doesn’t care.

Lest you think this is just me dunking on Cuomo during the pandemic, this is hardly the first time that Cuomo and the New York City leadership team has hurt the rest of New York. They passed the S.A.F.E. act to combat crime in New York City without considering the impact of a hunter in Batavia. They pass high taxes without considering the business owner in Waverly, who can just drive across town to South Waverly, Pennsylvania to buy goods at a lower tax rate. They pass onerous business regulations but can’t figure out why there is no economic development in Buffalo or Rochester.

It’s a common theme. New York’s leadership focuses on the eight counties in New York City and its suburbs and neglects the other 54 counties.

Partitioning New York is not a new idea. It’s been proposed occasionally by New Yorkers, but often more by the residents of upstate New York who are tired of having their lives dictated to them by Albany. And they’re right. Nobody in Albany thinks about the impact of taxes have outside New York. Nobody thinks about the economic climate of upstate cities. Nobody in Albany thinks about how onerous government regulations hurt small farmers in rural New York.

I don’t even live in New York and this is painfully obvious to me.

Democrats like to talk about disenfranchisement, either through gerrymandering or other means. But rural New Yorkers are effectively disenfranchised because of New York’s population imbalance. Between elected officials, media power, and economic influence, there is almost nothing upstate New York can do to protect themselves from the New York powerbrokers.

If New York Democrats really believe in protecting the franchise, they would allow the rest of New York to be free.

Lest you think otherwise, I’m not making a Republicans-vs-Democrats or left-vs-right argument here. Nor am I making an argument that we need to have one more Republican state join the union (though, it would be a reasonable political counterbalance to D.C. statehood should that come to fruition).

The argument is about regional parochialism and perceived political power. A Democrat in Buffalo is not reading from the same sheet of music that a Democrat in Manhattan is. Nor is a Republican from Cattaraugus necessarily on the same page as one from Massapequa. The urban areas of New York City are not like the rural areas of upstate.

Heck, the urban areas of New York City are not like the urban areas of upstate either. New York City and its environs are cosmopolitan, international, a world city built on tourism, finance, and entertainment. Upstate cities are almost Rust Belt cities. Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse have more in common with Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit than they do with New York City. Different economies, different climates, different values.

New York City can thrive on its own without the upstate. Can Upstate survive without New York? Almost certainly. Governance that is focused on upstate’s needs and upstate’s economy would be a boon to economic growth and development, and upstate would no longer be stuck with City Democrats forcing their economic whims on upstate’s disenfranchised populace.

This is a split that makes too much sense to not make it happen.

Will a split happen? Likely not. City Democrats will never vote to relinquish their iron-fisted grip on upstate. Nor would Congress be inclined to admit upstate to the union short of a compromise regarding D.C. as I mentioned above. But short of admission as a new state, something needs to be done about New York City’s leadership of New York State and the negative effect it is had on the finances and health (both physical and mental) of upstate residents.