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Secession movement in New York pushes for Big Apple to split from Upstate

- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2014

When Frank Sinatra sang "New York, New York," he may have been on to something.

A movement is afoot to split New York into two regions — upstate and downstate — to acknowledge the gaping philosophical differences and improve representation.

"I've lived in New York all my life, and upstate and downstate have two different philosophies of life," said John Bergener, an Albany County resident and organizer of the two New Yorks effort. "And it seems like they're always in conflict."

Campaigns for "secession" or a 51st state have been on the rise since the 2012 presidential election — see California, Colorado and Maryland — but the New York movement has a twist.

Instead of splitting New York into two distinct states, advocates want one state controlled by two autonomous regional governments.

The state would retain a "token" presence, funded by the 3 percent sales tax, and would remain united for federal purposes such as the Electoral College and congressional seats. But the power on all state matters would be transferred to the regions.

The downstate region would be called New York and include the counties of Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens, Richmond, Nassau, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester — basically New York City and its neighboring counties, including Long Island.

The upstate region tentatively would be named New Amsterdam — after the 17th-century Dutch settlement on Manhattan Island that eventually became New York City — and would comprise the state's remaining 53 counties, including the state capital of Albany.

Upstate New York is less prosperous and populous than the Big Apple region. About 7 million of the state's 19 million residents would be in the proposed New Amsterdam.

The plan is the brainchild of the Upstate Conservative Coalition, a tea party-style group that last month launched a Facebook page called Divide NYS into New Amsterdam & New York, and a website, NewAmsterdamNY.org.

Mr. Bergener said the two-regions proposal would be much easier than splitting New York into two states, which would require an act of Congress. The two-regions plan could be implemented by votes of the state legislature in two sessions, he said.

The idea also could be adopted in a constitutional convention. New Yorkers vote every 20 years on whether to hold a state constitutional convention, and the next vote is slated for November 2017.

This isn't the first time New Yorkers have advocated a division along upstate-downstate lines.

"If you search 'divide New York state' on Google, you'll find dozens of proposals," said Mr. Bergener. "None has ever come to fruition. The legislature never acts on it because they know Congress won't act on it. With this one, we feel like we've found a loophole."

Tension is growing between the two regions over a pair of high-profile policy issues: hydraulic fracturing and pre-kindergarten education.

Many upstaters are fuming over the recent refusal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, to lift a 6-year-old de facto moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas. The industry is booming in neighboring Pennsylvania but been stunted in an upstate region, which is struggling from the loss of manufacturing jobs.

The Cuomo administration is waiting until next year for the results of a state health study, but Mr. Bergener said those in the Southern Tier and other areas that would benefit from oil and gas drilling suspect a political motivation.

"The theory is that our current governor doesn't want upstate to grow because then you'd get more Republicans," Mr. Bergener said.

Upstate conservatives also were steamed over the governor's Jan. 17 declaration that pro-lifers "have no place in the state of New York."

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's proposal for a tax increase on wealthy residents to pay for universal pre-kindergarten in the five boroughs has been criticized by state officials, including Mr. Cuomo, who say it would widen the gap between upstate and downstate.

"I know the 'tale of two cities.' The answer to the tale of two cities is not to create two states," Mr. Cuomo said in a WNYC radio interview Friday.

Of course, that's where he and members of the two-regions coalition disagree.

"It's an unusual idea," said Mr. Bergener. "I've searched and I can't find anyone else who's tried this before. So we're the first."

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