Governor Andrew Cuomo’s reelection win amid multiple corruption scandals has ignited a volatile secessionist movement across upstate New York. Sentiments regarding the Governor’s $45 million campaign account have been exacerbated by deep resentments of downstate political machines, big city elitism, and a longstanding political culture that has been dismissive, condescending, and offensive towards upstate New Yorkers.
“The Governor wanted a big win that would say to the national media that Cuomo can bring people together, the implication being that under a President Cuomo the Congress would function,” explains one veteran political operative from East Aurora, NY. “Instead, he is has become the most demonstrably corrupt and polarizing Governor that any of us can remember.”
The secessionist movement seems to have been spawned organically, backed by second amendment activists still irate over the passage of the NYSAFE Act; upstate suburbs fed up with the nation’s highest tax rates; and young people who find themselves jobless or underemployed in the worst economy since the Great Depression.
Lower taxes, an easier regulatory environment, and the streamlining of governments and services would allow for a business friendly environment that would attract investment and allow the region to create jobs in a globally competitive context.
“Because of over 60 years of liberal policies — corrupt New York City politicians have utterly destroyed our economy. High taxes, a crushing regulatory environment, and free trade led to the collapse of American manufacturing and the tragic decimation of Upstate New York,” says a prominent Tea Party activist from Grand Island. “In a very real way, our politicians prostituted themselves to investment bankers in Manhattan who sold out Buffalo — once a mighty icon of American industry — in a profoundly inhumanly way.”
This movement has long been in the making, but the egregiousness of the Cuomo Administration’s public corruption seems to have riled a broad cross-section of the electorate, especially West of the Hudson River.
There are real economic reasons for the partitioning of the State, they say.
First, self-governance is a fundamental right that has been denied to this region — which would enjoy 10 electoral votes, 8 congressman, and two US Senators — statehood activists say. Because of the enormous population density inside New York City, the interests of Upstaters are structurally ignored. The little representation they have means nothing, they argue.
Second, the economic interests of the two regions vastly conflict, especially when the finance industry pushes policies that further cripple American manufacturing. They point to US Senator Chuck Schumer, the third ranking Democrat in the US Senate who sits on the powerful Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.
“Schumer is owned by the greedy Upper Eastside bankers who orchestrated the Housing crisis that has now put us firmly in the Second Great Depression for the foreseeable future,” says a 24 year old resident of Cheektowaga, NY. “Schumer is this region’s enemy number one. Just look at the foreclosures in your neighborhood and the homes that are still empty.”
That young man went on to angrily express his resentments and sometimes violent attitudes towards his State and federal governments. He even suggested what Schumer can do with his podium, and JP Morgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon is a central figure in the narrative that he articulates.
In talking with these activists, it is clear that Statehood is their objective, and they don’t find it unrealistic or implausible in the least.
“Albany isn’t going to go for it because their economy leeches off the state , as it is the Capitol,” he said “But everyone west of Albany would vote overwhelmingly for statehood.”
Cuomo is giving $1 billion to Buffalo to address these concerns. I asked, is that not endearing?
“This state steals $300 million annually from Western New York through the Niagara Power Project alone,” he retorts. “One billion dollars isn’t a drop in the bucket when compared to the magnitude of injustices that NYC bankers and their puppeted politicos have propagated against us.”
It is clear that these activists are serious, angry, volatile, and share a compelling world view. That they seem willing to use conflict as a tool could present Cuomo with his most serious political test yet. He will be judged on how he deals with the unrest and resolves the conflict.
“I’m not against taking a play from the Indians’ playbook. We just need to find enough tires first,” he says mischievously.
Indeed, the narratives of colonialism, resource extraction, and self-determination are ripe with parallels.