Rep. Nicole Malliotakis is right that Staten Island is not likely to succeed in seceding from the city of New York.
The borough needs the approval of both the City Council and the state Legislature — neither of which agreed to the idea even after Staten Islanders voted to split off from Gotham in a 1993 referendum, which passed with 65% support.
But Malliotakis is also right that secession makes good sense — and not just as a means to keep migrant camps out of the borough, the issue of the moment.
Smaller government, closer to the people, gives voters greater control over how their tax dollars are used, how their schools are run and what gets built in their neighborhoods.
And it limits the power of special-interest groups like public-sector unions.
Staten Islanders are just looking to have the same sort of control over their governments their small-town and suburban counterparts across the state enjoy.
Simply put, suburban votes count more.
In the city, with roughly 4.6 million voters, each of 51 council members represents some 90,000 voters. In suburban Scarsdale, each of seven village trustees represents 1,036 of the 7,252 registered voters.
That means individual votes can swing school-board elections and parent groups can outvote teachers unions, in districts with small labor unions.
Volunteer zoning boards can decide whether high-rises should be built — and ensure that if they are, resulting property-tax revenue will cover increased public costs.
Such would be the fruits of a successful Staten Island secession.
It’s worth keeping in mind history: The consolidation of the five boroughs in 1898 was motivated by nothing more than creating a common governance for the harbor port.
No one envisioned a school district with 900,000 students.
Indeed, a key memo to the Legislature from the consolidation movement’s leader, Andrew Haswell Green, has no mention of schools or city planning — or a right to shelter.
Green was focused almost entirely on the need for a single authority overseeing New York ports: “New York, Brooklyn, Long Island City, Jersey City, and all the communities around the port have a common interest in keeping open to the fullest communications with the interior, and this result and other common interests can be best accomplished by united efforts and by forces directed from One united municipality.”
Proponents also wanted to make sure the city was the nation’s largest by population — a point of pride, but not much more.
Outer-borough voters, whose approval by referendum was required for consolidation, barely assented. Kings County (Brooklyn) passed the proposal by just 50.1%; Flushing voted no.
Voters understood they were joining something bigger — but losing important controls.
It’s worth pondering the possibility that breaking up New York by borough might lead to better government as voters come to understand they have more power over what government does and how well it does it.
School districts organized by borough would compete for residents based on their performance — just as the school districts in Westchester and Nassau do.
The teachers union would no longer have the power to bring the whole city to its knees.
It’s no coincidence there have been no teacher strikes in Westchester.
They take place in big cities with big school districts, such as Chicago, instead.
Individual boroughs would decide whether to fund or defund the police; to permit marijuana dispensaries (as suburban municipalities are allowed to do); to continue rent control; to elect officials by ranked-choice voting.
These are all major policy decisions the average New York City voter has little power to influence — but which voters in smaller jurisdictions can.
Not that any breakup would be easy.
The city’s finances are complex, and there would have to be an accounting of how much of the accumulated debt each borough is responsible for.
Such complications gave even Georgia’s Legislature pause when it was asked to approve a secession referendum by Atlanta’s affluent Buckhead section last year — and decided to not even permit a vote.
It’s an understatement to say Albany is even less likely to do so.
But Malliotakis gets it right: “Staten Island would like to have an opportunity to self-govern.”
Complication, legal and financial, doesn’t mean secession doesn’t make sense.
The reasons it would be better for Staten Island are the same reasons the City Council and Legislature won’t approve it — but should.