New York City As The 51st State
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Vallone, Jr. asserted himself last week, as the newest Queens player on
the citywide political scene by resorting to some old-time effective
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.
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.
& Michael Schenkler
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
is not said to either discourage Vallone or oppose his marvelous
legislative effort. On the contrary, I’m aboard!
I’m a dreamer.
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.
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
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.
share with you the memories of a political junkie who was, in 1969,
relatively new to political junk.
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.
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.
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.
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.
John Lindsay on the Liberal line beat Dem candidate Procaccino and
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.
a more cerebral or at least less intoxicated level, Sam Smith, editor of
the Progressive Review, penned several years ago:
does New York City have more of than New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana,
South Dakota, Delaware, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming, all
do New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, South Dakota, Delaware, North
Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming have that New York City doesn’t
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
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
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
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…”
now we’ve come full circle.
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.
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.
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
cites item after item of inequitable treatment at the hands of an upstate
Governor and an upstate-controlled Senate.
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.
I asked him, “Are you serious? Do you think this thing can pass?”
needs serious consideration,” Vallone asserted.
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.”
study would determine the actual bottom line effect on the City.
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.
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.
fought a war about secession,” he paused.
not the civil war,” he explained, “The Revolutionary War — Taxation
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.
the working name of the new state is “Greater New York,” Vallone tells
us that “Gotham,” seems to be the popular choice.
Peter Vallone, Governor of Gotham?
Susan Lee contributed to this column
Other Queens Councilmembers Say
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?
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.
you entertain a commission to study secession?
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
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.”
Yes: “It’s doing something that’s very smart, [Vallone’s] drawing
attention to the issue…[showing] the inequity.”
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.”
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@queenspress.com