3 questions for reasonable New Yorkers

Oops, they did it again. Five GOP state senators have introduced a bill calling for a statewide referendum on separating.

Some Democrats are outraged, pointing out (rightly) how cynically Republicans have grandstanded in the past with such fantasy talk, often dragging out the false old “NYC Welfare Queens” canard. However, downstate and national Democrats including Peter Vallone and Leon Panetta have talked the same smack and nobody on our side was batting an eyelash.

You cannot take these noises seriously, and yet for all their surface ridiculousness, they seem expressive of something. In the past, they may have been hoary cynical grandstanding ploys, but today the divide is not just cultural, it is economic (as we have been saying for years now). What if there’s something there for reasonable people to consider? If there isn’t anything, then the idea should go away until another attention-seeking pol rediscovers it. If there is something…

My own evolving thoughts on separation can be traced in past posts such as:

Who Ya Gonna Call? in which I extended the “bad marriage” metaphor maybe to the breaking point;

3 Upstate Conversation Killers, which looked at ways that we talk ourselves out of talking amongst ourselves;

and more recently, Splitter! in which I wondered about who would run (wreck?) a post-separation New York.

But, not to get too far ahead of things, or even to take them so seriously at face value, I think we could at least identify three core starter questions in response to this “motion”:

1) Does One New York really exist? (and if so, why does the concept remain such a hard sell?)

2) Is Upstate politically and economically ready for prime time, ready to control its own affairs without undue outside influence? (my feeling is “no”)

3) Even if it’s wrong to instigate it, should we think about preparing for eventual separation? (After all, if downstate politicians — louder and endowed with bigger media organs — wanted to start a downstate secession movement, they could probably get people lathered up about it pretty easily. And then wouldn’t Upstaters have to face the same questions about independence anyway…?)

Would reasonable people try to answer these questions?

10 Replies to “3 questions for reasonable New Yorkers”

  1. We WERE “One New York” . . . as defined by our State Constitution . . . but the reapportionment of the State Legislature required by the US Supreme Court – – – which nullified key state constitution provisions – – – destroyed it.

    New York’s founders wanted to ensure that constituencies in less populated regions had an effective voice in government. While on occasion there was grumbling downstate, it worked, and NY became the most populous and wealthiest of states.

    Now, with laws and State Policies made from a “Downstate perspective,” Upstate does not have a chance.

  2. Of course the GOP wants it–it means what, 10-20 electoral votes for them? For us, it means a state that resembles Wisconsin, only poorer. That’s my prediction, anyway.

  3. I have the unique pleasure (?) of living in New York City part of the year, and the Adirondacks part of the year. (Until June when we move north full time.) These kinds of questions always really interest me.

    1) Does One New York really exist? No. I find very little connection or affinity between upstate and downstate. Both of our groups of friends complain about the other area, both politically and socially. In fact, I often hear, “I could never live there. That’s a whole other world.”

    2) Is Upstate politically and economically ready for prime time, ready to control its own affairs without undue outside influence? As you mention – No.

    3) Even if it’s wrong to instigate it, should we think about preparing for eventual separation? Nah. There’s always somewhere talking about succeeding from somewhere else in this state. Long Island as its own state. Staten Island succeeding from NYC. New York City from New York State. It never happens.

  4. We should prepare for energy descent and coping with drilling in the Marcellus Shale and global climate change. This doesn’t make my “worry about it” list, although I tend to agree w/KAZ that some people want it.

  5. In culture, morality, and political philosophy, there has always been the dichotomy between Upstate and Downstate, since the days of Alexander Hamilton, and perhaps earlier.

    The problem lies with one powerful group ruling the other (even if it is a rule of intangible economic policy). Downstate rules Upstate, presently, and Downstate is doing a heck of a crappy job. I’m in favor of recession if Downstate refuses to back off.

  6. If Upstate did separate, I’d expect to end up something like New Hampshire politically, but probably with a less explicitly libertarian bent. But these are good questions.

    1) There used to be One New York. DeWitt Clinton was the blacksmith who hammered it together with the Erie Canal, and the state then worked hard for a while to knit it together with more canals. It’s been weakening since railroads overshadowed the canal, and really collapsed about the same time that the railroads did – the 1960s and 1970s. No one’s bothered with it much, except rhetorically, since then.

    2) No, Upstate is not ready for the responsibility. Of course we’re not ready for the responsibility. Why would we be? We’ve been in a strange position where we’re not quite responsible for ourselves for over a century, never really taking charge, and finding our political opportunities mostly in blocking moves. It’s not quite as severe as figuring out what to do after colonialism, but why would we be ready?

    3) Even if there’s never a formal secession, the divisions within the state are real, and worth talking about. The divides won’t fade if we try to ignore them. If anything, I expect that would make them grow.

    (This is the only context where I regularly feel sorry for Long Island – cut off by NYC, dependent on NYC, but different from NYC in a lot of ways. They’re trapped. Upstate isn’t as badly trapped.)

    I suspect – I’d like to be wrong – that NYC’s standing as a world capital is collapsing right now. Not that it’ll ever go away, but it’ll be one of many, not pre-eminent. Fifty years from now, it’ll be something more like Paris (still not at all bad) or Buenos Aires (has its appeal) than the centerpoint of the many schemes of the Masters of the Universe.

    That’ll change a lot of things. We’ll see…

  7. Ellen– HAHA! Oops, typos can be funny! ;) Sheesh, but what a typo! It’s quite evident what’s on my mind, eh?

    Simon St. Laurent’s comment is good. DeWitt Clinton did forge a One New York, but it was merely a blip on the historical timeline; and Upstate is not responsible enough to lead its own way (at least when one looks at the past 100 years or so). The problem is mainly that Upstaters are more relaxed– most of us just want to live our lives, and not be the power-brokers of the nation or the world like so many in NYC.

  8. I’m not so worried if we don’t feel ready for governing ourselves here Upstate.

    Frankly, I’d rather us fail by our own wits (or lack thereof), than continue as is, just as it’s been for too long now.

    Sometimes, all one needs is that extra push, shot of fear, or glimpse of freedom to ready her/himself…

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