Rep. Nicole Malliotakis is correct in stating that Staten Island is unlikely to succeed in seceding from the city of New York. In order for this to happen, approval would be needed from both the City Council and the state Legislature, neither of which have agreed to the idea despite a 1993 referendum in which Staten Islanders voted in favor of splitting off from the city.
However, Malliotakis is also correct in asserting that secession would be beneficial. It would allow for smaller government, which would give voters greater control over how their tax dollars are used, how their schools are run, and what gets built in their neighborhoods. Additionally, it would limit the power of special-interest groups like public-sector unions.
Staten Islanders simply want the same control over their government that their small-town and suburban counterparts across the state enjoy. The current structure disadvantages city voters, where each city council member represents around 90,000 voters, compared to approximately 1,036 voters per trustee in suburban areas like Scarsdale. This means that individual votes can have a greater impact on school-board elections and parent groups can outvote teachers unions.
Secession would also allow for volunteer zoning boards to have a say in whether high-rises should be built, ensuring that resulting property-tax revenue would cover increased public costs. This is evidence that a successful Staten Island secession would lead to greater accountability and decision-making power at the local level.
It is important to consider the history of New York and the consolidation of the five boroughs in 1898. This consolidation was primarily motivated by creating a common governance for the harbor port, with no mention of schools, city planning, or the right to shelter. The focus was on united efforts and creating a single authority overseeing the ports.
Ultimately, breaking up New York by borough could lead to better government as voters realize the power they have over government decisions and its effectiveness. School districts organized by borough would compete based on performance, similar to the school districts in Westchester and Nassau. The teachers union and other special-interest groups would no longer have the power to disrupt the entire city, as decisions would be made at the borough level.
While any breakup would come with complications and financial considerations, this should not discount the merits of secession. Staten Island’s desire for self-governance should be acknowledged, even if it may be challenging to achieve. It is important for the City Council and Legislature to recognize the benefits of secession and consider approving it.