Is It Time for New York to Split in Two?
With New York State increasingly divided between its dominant urban progressives and everyone else, is it time for it to split into smaller states?
Following the results of November’s elections in New York, the Empire State will be run in its totality by Democratic elected officials. Voters made this so by rejecting enough Republicans and GOP-aligned Democrats to flip the New York State Senate, which has been controlled by Republicans for every year since World War II except three. In the new senate, Democrats will hold their largest majority since 1912.
Up until now, the senate has served as a bastion of resistance to the state’s elected Democrats, who are increasingly dominated by far-left progressives from New York City.
After the elections, Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed his elation at the new legislative composition, stating: “My great frustration has been the inability to pass progressive measures that would have made a significant positive difference for the state and, as governor, bearing the burden of the failure of their passage,” he said. “The Democratic Senate will liberate me from that frustration.”
New York City mayor and proud progressive Bill de Blasio said of the state senate’s turn: “It’s a whole new ballgame.” De Blasio made clear what is to come, saying that the new dynamic “is going to allow for a host of progress for the state—and going to allow some really important initiatives to finally be acted on.”
Current senate Democratic minority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is expected to become the next senate majority leader, said, “We will finally give New Yorkers the progressive leadership they have been demanding.” She added that with a majority, New York would transform into “a place where good progressive ideas no longer go to die, especially in the Senate.”
Come January, with a New York City-dominated Democratic Party in control of all statewide offices (governor, assembly, senate, attorney general, and comptroller), the needs of the state’s other voters, particularly those from rural areas, as well as political moderates and conservatives, may be forgotten. Simply put, New York’s more moderate Democrats and everyone to the right of them will not be represented sufficiently at any level of statewide government. Just in terms of the new senate leadership, the expected majority leader is based out of Yonkers, which shares a border with the city, while the likely deputy majority leader and chair of the Democratic conference are both from New York City proper.
As a result, the state’s rural voters, scattered throughout less populated areas, will be left behind. Large swaths of upstate New York have been economically and socially decimated by the types of economic changes that have affected similar communities throughout the country.
Many suburban and exurban voters, too, will likely be an afterthought. Many of these areas flipped from Republican to Democrat, and will now come under the control of a progressive-dominated party. In the September primary elections, six of the incumbent members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which had in recent years been caucusing with the Republicans, were ousted by progressive and socialist “insurgent” candidates.
Also telling, the significantly far-left Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which has held status as more of a fringe-type group rather than a seriously influential one, has even gained considerable influence in New York City this year. As of early December, at least eight of the candidates vying for an expected nonpartisan special election early next year to fill the Public Advocate position in New York City returned a questionnaire from the DSA with the hope of receiving the group’s endorsement.
The issue of representation is critical here because there are a great number of considerable differences in the regions, counties, and communities throughout the massive state of 54,555 square miles. Indeed, New York is just too large, with myriad different interests, cultures, histories, and needs, and now, legislatively, upstate and Long Island voters have lost considerable pragmatic political clout.
The representation issue is not likely to improve, as far upstate communities continue to lose residents while New York City, and some of its most immediate suburban counties, gain residents, a trend that likely won’t change any time soon according to long-term economic trends.
From 2010 to 2017, 42 of 50 far upstate counties lost population, as did Suffolk County on Long Island. Meanwhile, only the five counties that comprise New York City, as well as four of its immediate suburban counties —Westchester, Rockland, Orange and Nassau County on Long Island—gained population from 2010 to 2017. New York State consists of 62 counties. New York City is comprised of five boroughs, all of which are conterminous with five counties. Long Island consists of two counties. In the view of many, or most, New Yorkers from New York City, “upstate” consists of all 55 counties north of the city.
With the majority of the state’s population and legislative power already concentrated in New York City and its immediate suburbs, and with this divide only growing, the next decennial legislative redistricting will not bode well for most of the rest of the state.
All of these issues show that the minority population of the state will increasingly be tyrannized politically by the majority population.
If future legislative victories are not the answer, then what is a long-term solution to the divides?
The temporary fix of re-working how legislators are apportioned is not an option, for non-population-based representation in state legislatures is illegal based on the 1964 Reynolds v. Sims decision of the United States Supreme Court. There are also great moral concerns involved with non-population-based representation.
As a result of the practical legal difficulties, the topic of the secession of a state’s territory and the creation of a new state is so often seen as being too difficult to be a practical option. Secession of territory from one state in order to form a new state is, indeed, not simple. On the federal level, article IV, section 3 of the Constitution requires the consent of the concerned legislatures as well as of Congress.
But secession and the creation of a new state, or states, is not impossible. The way to begin is to inculcate into the consciousness of the people the idea that the processes of secession and the creation of new states are possible. Most voters outside of New York City are already well aware of how different their needs are than that of the urban majority, and they know how demographic changes and elections have left them at a disadvantage.
Any discussion should include serious and intellectual debate on state territorial secessions and the creation of new states. Just as the people of New York City should not be beholden to voters in the rest of the state, neither should the rest of the state be beholden to New York City’s voters. New York City constitutes a proper state community; upstate and Long Island residents need to discuss what parts of their areas would constitute proper state communities.
At this critical juncture in American political history, the creation of new states in the current territory of New York demands a serious discussion. Every minute that is wasted is an additional minute during which politics is not serving the common good.
Gerard T. Mundy is a writer and teaches philosophy, as a political philosophy/political theory specialist, at a private college in New York City.