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Throwback or FutureWorld?
New York City As The 51st State

By MICHAEL SCHENKLER

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Peter Vallone, Jr. asserted himself last week, as the newest Queens player on the citywide political scene by resorting to some old-time effective grandstanding.

Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr., son of the former Speaker, reached back to the political razzle dazzle of a bygone era to crystallize the inequitable treatment the greatest City in the world receives at the hands of a financially desperate and politically out-of-step New York State.

Let me explain.

As you’ve probably heard or read, Vallone, Jr., councilman from Astoria, is introducing legislation to begin the process of exploring whether New York City should secede from New York State. The law to be introduced by Vallone begins the several-year-long process with a referendum asking whether secession should be studied and considered.


Peter Vallone, Jr.
& Michael Schenkler

Now, although I have chatted with Vallone about his creative call for change and have reviewed the legislation and supporting documents, I am more taken with the creative, fun side of the effort and the lightning-rod effect than I am with the likelihood of it ultimately getting through the Republican-controlled State.

This is not said to either discourage Vallone or oppose his marvelous legislative effort. On the contrary, I’m aboard!

But I’m a dreamer.

Now, I don’t think Peter Junior is. I think his effort is a clearly thought out attempt to demonstrate the inequitable treatment our City has received, and continues to receive, at the hands of the State. It can serve as a catalyst for change.

Bravo, Peter!

Vallone has reached back for this one — far back without knowing it. The last time I remember anyone having fun with New York City secession was in the 1969 Mayoral race. Vallone, Jr. informed me he was eight years old back then and had no knowledge of the bizarre yet brilliantly creative effort I described.

Now I tried to research the “New York-as-the-51st State movement” – the central campaign theme of 1969 Mayoral candidate Norman Mailer and his City Council President running mate Jimmy Breslin – but that great moment in New York history seems to be relegated to footnote status.

I share with you the memories of a political junkie who was, in 1969, relatively new to political junk.

Republican John Lindsay – too Liberal for his own party – had served his first term as Mayor. Besieged with budget and labor problems, he seemed to be reasonable prey for a strong Democratic challenger. When challenged from the right of his own party by Staten Island conservative State Senator John Marchi, the Dems began to lick their lips.

The Dems in the primary: former Mayor Robert Wagner, Herman Badillo (yup, the same guy who ran for Mayor last year on the Republican line and lost to Mike Bloomberg), City Comptroller Mario Procaccino, Congressman Jim Scheuer (yup, the same guy you old-timers remember representing parts of the Bronx and the north shore of Queens and Long Island), and Pulitzer Prize winning author, playwright and intellectual brawler Norman Mailer.

Mailer’s candidacy convinced opinionated Queens newspaper columnist  Jimmy Breslin – who had built a rep on his ability to chronicle urban grit – to abandon his own mayoral quest and join the higher profile Mailer as his Council Prez running mate. The two, if memory serves me, drank their way through an intellectual exercise the likes of which the City has never seen. At the end, after an abysmal showing, some marvelous ideas and the inability of the public and press to distinguish meat from mirth, we were left with a memorable proposal: To Make New York City the 51st State.

The merriment of the two intellectual buffoons prevented the serious consideration of the idea. And it was quietly put back on the shelf to ferment along with the juice that seemed to fuel their effort.

Oh, John Lindsay on the Liberal line beat Dem candidate Procaccino and Republican Marchi.

I informed Vallone that this writer was so taken with the idea of the Mailer – Breslin New York State of Mind that I played with it some 30 years ago. In 1972, when aspiring publisher Gary Ackerman was struggling with his new “Tribune,” and I was conned into serving as its Contest Editor, I remember penning  a contest: “What should we name New York City if it became the 51st State?” The romance of the effort never left this lefty.

On a more cerebral or at least less intoxicated level, Sam Smith, editor of the Progressive Review, penned several years ago:

“What does New York City have more of than New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, South Dakota, Delaware, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming, all put together?

People.

What do New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, South Dakota, Delaware, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming have that New York City doesn’t have?

Eighteen US Senators.

New York City gets to share two senators with the residue of New York State, which is also larger than all these other states put together. In fact, there are 16 states with a combined population less than New York in its entirety.”

Smith, an advocate of urban statehood — providing big cities with the representation they deserve — points out that the discrimination is not exclusive to New York. New states have been admitted, “37 times since the creation of the republic and in a number of cases — Kentucky, Vermont, West Virginia, and Maine — new states were formed out of existing ones.”

The modern idea of urban statehood Smith also credits to Mailer and Breslin. He remarks their other ideas included, “‘Sweet Sundays’ – when the City would comes to a halt “so human beings can rest and talk to each other and the air can purify itself.’  Mailer and Breslin understood that real politics is not just a matter of management but a collective expression of a community’s soul.”

He concludes, “imagine what the powerful folk of New York City could do if they rose up in righteous anger against their lack of equitable representation …Imagine a Million Mensch March — led perhaps by Ed Koch and Al Sharpton — descending on Washington to press the cause, a cause which is not just that of New York but of every American city…”

THE PROPOSAL'S CHANCES

And now we’ve come full circle.

Vallone sees a different devil than Smith. Vallone sees a State unfair and indifferent to our City – its cash cow. He pointed out that after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, California – without being asked, instituted a statewide ¼ percent increase in the sales tax to foot the billion dollar bill for the City’s recovery.

He insists that the NYC commuter tax should have been reinstated by the State on Sept. 12, 2001 and is outraged that the more than $2 billion we lost because of its repeal, continues to mount while the State refuses to act.

He is outraged by the Governor’s refusal to settle the education lawsuit and provide our City kids with the same per capita State expenditure as upstate kids.

Vallone cites item after item of inequitable treatment at the hands of an upstate Governor and an upstate-controlled Senate.

He has presented an initial income and expenditure flow chart showing that the financial outcome of secession could be a $2,310,000,000 surplus to our City, the new state.

But I asked him, “Are you serious? Do you think this thing can pass?”

“It needs serious consideration,” Vallone asserted.

He explained: “If the Mayor and Speaker don’t get what they need from Albany this year, it will pass the Council. It just calls for a study, but provides a lot of leverage with it.”

The study would determine the actual bottom line effect on the City.

The timetable, according to Vallone, suggests that the ultimate Albany vote and Governor’s action would come just after the next Gubernatorial election. Candidates would have to declare themselves on the issue.

Secession is not a new idea, said Vallone, who pointed out that the new state would be the 10th largest in the nation, but he wasn’t talking about Mailer-Breslin.

“We fought a war about secession,” he paused.

“No, not the civil war,” he explained, “The Revolutionary War — Taxation without representation.”

“When overwhelmingly passed by the City and sent upstate where the people don’t like us, we’ll see what the legislature does,” Vallone analyzed the movement’s chances.

Although the working name of the new state is “Greater New York,” Vallone tells us that “Gotham,” seems to be the popular choice.

Hmm, Peter Vallone, Governor of Gotham?

Stay tuned.

— Susan Lee contributed to this column

What Other Queens Councilmembers Say

 

Queens Councilmembers were asked to share their thoughts about the proposal by their colleague Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr., who wants to pose the question to New Yorkers in the form of a ballot referendum—asking: Should we look at the possibilities of NYC seceding from New York and creating its own state?

 Though most Queens elected officials thought that the proposal may not be realistic in the long run, virtually all Councilmembers that spoke to the Tribune said that the idea was good in addressing the inequitable relationship between the City and State. 

Would you entertain a commission to study secession?

Tony Avella, Yes: “I am not opposed to the idea. Unfortunately it might not get anywhere. It’s not a cut and dry issue, it has significant legal problems to be overcome.  But just bringing up the issue is important, it’s important to bring out the inequalities in the tax structure…The State of NY, in my opinion, survives on us.”    

John Liu, Yes: “I think the issue, that we are grappling with is that there are hard choices to be made in the City. Sometimes, it feels like the State is hindering us more than it helps, and I can certainly understand Peter’s frustration in the process… I think I would support a Commission.”           .

David Weprin: “I praise the Councilman for highlighting the issue, but from the practical point of view…I don’t think it is realistic. This type [of proposal though] will help the debate.”

Jim Gennaro: “Initiatives are borne out of the frustration that New York City residents feel with respect to the  State government. Secession will not happen, Albany is not going to kill it’s golden goose.           

Leroy Comrie, Yes: “I like the idea. It’s not going to be something that is easy to do.  The City gives more than their fare share.  [It] gives us pause to really think about our long term relationship with the State and taxation without representation.”

Dennis Gallagher, Yes: “It’s doing something that’s very smart, [Vallone’s] drawing attention to the issue…[showing] the inequity.”

Joe Addabbo, Jr., Yes: “We have to entertain any idea at this point. The dire need caused the extreme proposal to be made, any proposal [is] a reality check.”

Not4Publication.com by Dom Nunziato

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Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@queenspress.com

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