By Chuck Bennett
amNewYork Staff Writer
May 15, 2006
New York City -- the 51st state. It's an old idea being revived once again in the City Council.
Months before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, New York City Mayor Fernando Wood proposed seceding from the state and creating the "Free City of Tri-Insula" to keep the lucrative cotton trade with the South alive.
A little over a hundred years later in 1969, writers Norman Mailer and Jimmy Breslin ran for mayor and council speaker on a statehood campaign.
And now Queens Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. says he is "deadly serious" about having the Big Apple secede from the Empire State.
He first introduced the secession bill in 2003 and reintroduced the long-shot legislation last week.
"The only reason we are in bad financial condition is because of Albany," he said, citing the $3.5 billion in taxes the city pays to Albany but isn't returned in funding. "We just want our own money back."
Vallone, an ambitious politicians and son of the former council speaker Peter Vallone, wants a citywide referendum to create a commission to study secession and the creation of a "Greater New York."
Personally, he likes the idea of calling the new state -- which would be the 10th largest in the union -- Gotham or just New York.
But to ever get there, secession would need approval voters, the Legislature, the governor, Congress and then the president.
"It's a waste of time and money," says former mayor Ed Koch. "The city doesn't have the right to secede nor should it, in my judgment."
Vallone, however, says he expects wide support for his bill in the council -- especially as anger rises over Albany's failure to comply with a court order calling for more state funding of New York City schools.
Christine Quinn, the speaker of the council, did not return calls for comment.
A spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg shot down the idea.
Everyday New Yorkers, however, were open to secession.
"I like the idea, it's great. We generate the bulk of the state's income, but when it comes to making decisions we have to depend on Albany ... The politicians in Albany don't know what it's like to live here," said David Gonzales, 48, a human resources consultant.
Likewise, political observers say the merits of secession are worth debating.
The secession bill is a "good way to call attention to the issue of discrimination against the city in state programs," said Prof. Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College.
For instance, New York City has 84% of the state's mass transit riders but only receives 61% of the state's mass transit funds.
"It does make a point that there is a continual struggle between New York City and upstate regions," said Alan Chartock, publisher of the Legislative Gazette.
He quickly added, "Everyone knows it ain't ever going to happen. ... [Vallone] does it because he knows he is going to get his puss in the paper."
Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.