With all the commotion and rhetoric about “statehood” for Washington, D.C., I have a modest proposal, inspired by satirist Jonathan Swift: statehood for Staten Island, New York, instead.
For the uninitiated, Staten Island is the southernmost and least populated borough of New York City. It’s also known as Richmond County. And the case for sovereign statehood for Staten Island is much stronger than the argument for D.C.
Those who are cynically promoting statehood for the District of Columbia (part of the infamous “H.R. 1” legislation) ignore the constitutional impediments placed on such a scheme by the Framers.
“ … The American Founders (confirmed) that the national capital shouldn’t be at the mercy of any state,” writes Professor Rob Natelson, one of the nation’s most respected scholars and authors on the U.S. Constitution. He adds: “In 1783, Congress began to lay plans for a capital district outside of any state, and under direct federal authority.” Mr. Natelson continues: “An independent capital district became a top congressional priority.”
Hence, it should be no surprise that the Framers of the Constitution included the “Enclave Clause,” ensuring, explicitly, that D.C. would never be a state.
Some gadflies questioning statehood for Staten Island may point to Article V of the Constitution, which posits that “… no new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State.”
This is a mere triviality. When Congress and the president express their support for Staten Island statehood, negotiations can begin. Given the state of ethics among New York’s elected leaders, a series of presidential pardons in exchange for Staten Island statehood and freedom can proceed. As the leading man said in that noteworthy Staten Island movie, it’s an “… offer they couldn’t refuse.”
But even aside from the constitutional concerns, the case for Staten Island statehood is much more persuasive. D.C. occupies 61 square miles, while Staten Island has a nearly identical 58.5 square mile footprint. The District had 705,749 people in 2019, while the island’s population was 476,143 the same year. But D.C.’s population has been declining until recently, while Staten Island has more than doubled in size since 1960. Based on current trends, the island may surpass D.C.’s population at some point in the next few decades.
Some “progressives” have argued that Washington, D.C.’s mostly African-descent populace argues in favor of statehood. But in recent decades, D.C. has become markedly “whiter,” whereas Staten Island has come to be much more diverse.
Long the “most Italian” county in the United States, the island has changed from a 97% white enclave in 1950 down to 75% Caucasian in 2018. Staten Island includes the “Little Sri Lanka” neighborhood, as well as the largest community of Liberians anywhere outside that African nation, and numerous other minority and immigrant groups. At last count, the leading ethnic groups were Italian (34%), Irish (14%) and German (6%). There’s even an active Tibetan Buddhist temple in mid-island.
D.C.’s most prominent international presence consists of Third World ambassadors and other diplomats. Those are the folks who park anywhere they want and drop the exculpatory “diplomatic immunity” phrase on command. Staten Island has no diplomats with special immunity from law, though a few colorful residents have indeed requested witness protection for themselves.
The island has an impressive gross domestic product of over $15 billion. D.C. enthusiasts will point to their much larger gross product, but remember that most of that largesse is taken from the people of New York and the other 49 states, in taxes to support bloated Federal payrolls.
Staten Islanders have already expressed their desire for more independence, at the ballot box. In 1993, two-thirds of Staten Island’s voters chose to secede from New York City. That plebiscite was thwarted by the state Assembly, then in the iron grip of Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver, since convicted of corruption and now incarcerated.
What calmed the passion for secession was that, also in 1993, Rudy Giuliani was elected mayor, with an overwhelming 83% majority on Staten Island.
Mr. Giuliani succeeded in suppressing crime, restraining spending, welfare and taxes, and restored 500,000 jobs city-wide. But in recent years, the startling failures of Mayor Bill DeBlasio have islanders thinking about staking out their own path once again. Violent crime has spiked as never before, businesses and citizens are leaving, while government spending, taxes and tolls keep mounting. Secession talk and even legislation are reverberating around the island once again.
Statehood for Staten Island, after dealing with those trifling Article V issues, could be approved by the U.S. Senate and House. This “modest proposal” is surely a much stronger case than statehood for the District of Columbia.
• Herbert W. Stupp is the editor of Gipperten.com. He was Mayor Giuliani’s commissioner at the NYC Department for the Aging, 1994-2002.