The ambitious lawyer took no time to achieve his goal. In less than a decade, he had moved from being a partner in his New York City firm to a major real estate investor in the Albany area before finally relocating his family to a county located on New York’s farthest boundary. There, within a short span of three years, he had used his New York City and Albany connections to place his own ally in the position of county sheriff and get himself elected to the assembly. There, he steered the powerful New York-Albany axis towards his own political ends. Those constituents he left in the hinterland? Once he went to the assembly in Albany, no one cared about them. He didn’t. His wealthy backers in New York City didn’t. And the powers that be in Albany didn’t.
Sound familiar? After reading the above, you may be thinking of the poor underserved citizens of the Greater Western New York Region. In reality, I just described the then newly formed (from Albany County) Cumberland County on the far eastern border of colonial New York. What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of a Cumberland County in New York? That’s because today we call Cumberland County the State of Vermont.
But the centuries old story I just told remains just as salient today as it did in the weeks before the onset of the American Revolution. (FYI, that “ambitious lawyer” was a fellow by the name of Crean Brush and his “wealthy backers” were the British Tories – or “Yorkers” – the proto-state of Vermont and all the other American colonies would soon revolt against.)
If you’re a native of the Greater Western New York region, it often seems like those Yorkers never left us. The New York City-Albany axis today echoes an elitism similar to the British Aristocracy-Dutch Patroon system of the pre-Revolutionary era. In many ways, Greater Western New York is to the twenty-first century what Vermont (ex-Cumberland County, nee Albany County) was to the eighteenth century.
The NYC-Albany axis bullies us just as it did those Cumberland County folks. We have plenty of recent examples where Albany policies have been passed without due consideration of public discourse. Most recently has been the “free” college education touted by Andrew Cuomo as a way to enhance his 2020 presidential prospects. (The “free” part of this policy has since been exposed as indentured servitude; the term polite society uses to avoid saying the word “slavery.”)
The poster child for “Albany gone wild,” though, was the Safe Act. Passed in a hurried vote immediately after an individual diagnosed with a mental disorder murdered 27 people, the law was immediately panned. Indeed, all but two counties outside of New York City passed resolutions opposing the SAFE Act. (Those two counties were Albany and Tompkins, the latter being the home to Ithaca, if you know what I mean.)
The SAFE Act also contained unfunded mandates which were opposed by the New York State Association of County Clerks (and those in the western region in particular). I can’t tell you how many times local elected officials have complained to me about unfunded mandates from Albany. I’ve asked them to begin cataloguing the most egregious examples for publication, but, to date, no one seems willing to put their pen where their mouth is.
The last illustration of the stultifying power of the NYC-Albany axis is ride-sharing. In 2011, the popular ride sharing service Uber began operating in New York City. The agreement made with state (and local) officials was limited to that city. Is that fair? It’s not as if people in Buffalo and Rochester don’t want to use Uber. In fact, according to Uber, on Thanksgiving Eve in 2016, 43,000 New Yorkers opened its app but couldn’t use the service because of the state-wide ban.
It’s not as if they didn’t try to offer their service. Lyft, a competitor of Uber, started providing rides in Buffalo and Rochester in April 2014 only to be shut down by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the New York State insurance regulators (but, and this is important here, not by any local Buffalo or Rochester authorities). Lyft was fined $300,000. Furthermore, since 2013 both Lyft and Uber have spent almost $1 million on state lobbyists to remove the ban. (Ironically, Lyft co-founder John Zimmer conceived the ride-sharing idea while a student at Cornell University; where until this month New York State had prohibited the service.)
The grim reality is the Greater Western New York region does not possess the political clout to fight the NYC-Albany axis. In truth, unless and until we can begin replenishing our population losses in respect to New York City and Albany, we’ll never be able to reverse the laws, regulations, and mandates that hurt us. And what’s the likelihood of attracting workers when the state decided to enforce a $15 an hour minimum wage (presumably because it’s too expensive to live in New York City)?
Perhaps we should revisit the history of Vermont to guide us. Benjamin H. Hall wrote in his History of Eastern Vermont, from Its Earliest Settlement to the Close of the Eighteenth Century, (1858), “He who has nothing but what another has power at pleasure lawfully to take away from him, has nothing that he can call his own, and is, in the fullest sense of the word, a slave… and whoever endeavours to deprive them of their privileges is guilty of treason against the Americans…”
More pointedly, look at what Reuben Jones wrote in his report following the infamous 1775 Westminster Massacre (when the tyrannical Tory forces of Albany killed two young men who non-violently expressed their opposition to the overbearing policies of the Yorkers: “The people were of the opinion that such men were not suitable to rule over them… When the good people considered that the general assembly were for bringing them into a state of slavery (which did appear plain by their not acceding to the best method to procure their liberties, and the executive power so strongly acquiescing in all that they did, whether it was right or wrong), the good people of said county thought it was time to look for themselves.”
Do you think it’s time to look out for ourselves? Are you fed-up with Albany? Go to our Facebook page and tell us what you think.
The above is based on research Mr. Carosa has undertaken for his forthcoming book Greater Western New York a State? Why Not? This book compares and contrasts why eastern New York separated from New York to become the state of Vermont following the Revolutionary War while Western New York did not. If you’re interested in learning more about this book, register with the web-site StateOf.GreaterWesternNewYork.com (it’s free).