When Should Greater Western New York Declare its Independence from Albany?

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DCF 1.0As many of you already know, I’ve been writing weekly and monthly columns for national publications for almost seven years now. One of the perks of serving as a countrywide reporter includes access to a coast-to-coast network of sources. I usually stick to my standard beat when sourcing questions. Every once in a while, however, I stray from that path and have a little fun.

Another thing you probably know about me is that I am a life-long booster of the Greater Western New York region. It’s one of the reasons I started a mutual fund called the “Greater Western New York Series.” It was one small way I could help promote the region. Once we started the fund I learned this: There are many more people who are former citizens from Greater Western New York than currently live here. Wow.

Now, put these two factoids together and you can see where I’m going. Despite writing for a national audience, once these readers discover I’m from Western New York, well, that’s all they want to talk about. It seems, in their minds at least (and probably ours, too), the Greater Western New York region evokes images of sunshine and happiness. It’s a never ending series of hot summer days eating ice cream and splashing in water; coupled with the cozy comfort of peeking outside the frosty window into the winter wonderland beyond, knowing all is well with your family close by. I think these ex-pats really miss these feelings.

It only makes sense that, in the course of a conversation with a fellow from California whose parent packed up and moved to California when the Queen City still produced steel, the subject came up. (OK, truth be told, I asked first.) Mark Aselstine, founder of Uncorked Ventures in the San Francisco Bay area, was born in Buffalo. He remembers how he was “raised on stories about how New York City took most of the tax money from Western New York.”*

Does “taxation without representation” ring a bell with you? If so, then you’re beginning to understand what all the growing hubbub about the movement to make Greater Western New York region its own state – independent of Albany and wholly separate from its New York City-centric policies. Aselstine says if his parents were responding to this “they’d say it’s a no brainer. In all seriousness, having spent time in both New York City as well as Western New York, it isn’t a crazy idea because the regions really are so culturally different.”

Many years ago, a friend of mine who used to work on the staff of a Democrat Assemblyman in Buffalo told me when the Greater Western New York region lost its representation. Sometime in the early 1970s, as the migration to the west coast intensified (perhaps including Aselstine’s family), the balance of power in the Empire State shifted. In fact, it lost its balance. Given the voting rules that govern our state government, for the last two generations, whatever anything south and east of Westchester County wanted, anything south and east of Westchester County got.

Sure, we citizens of Greater Western New York got to “vote” for our representatives, but that vote had about as much meaning as any “vote” in the old Soviet Union. It hasn’t been that the New York City-Albany Politburo only recently has been enacting legislation and policies inconsistent with the mores of most of the citizens of the Greater Western New York region. This erosion began decades ago. It’s just that Albany has become more emboldened in the last few years.

Is it any surprise, then, that traveling through the heartland of “America’s First Frontier” (which is what Greater Western New York represents), one sees a plethora of Gadsden flags as well as the Confederate Stars and Bars flying defiantly. Both symbols represent a desire for freedom and independence on the part of those displaying them.

Two hundred and forty years ago, several dozen leading citizens risked life and limb and declared:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another… That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness… But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security…”

It’s not too far to take this document (as so many other freedom loving people have (including Susan B. Anthony and the Suffragettes at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention) and edit its conclusion as follows:

“We, therefore,… by Authority of the good People of these Colonies Greater Western New York, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are Greater Western New York, and of Right ought to be a Free and Independent States.”

It used to be regular folk thought it crazy to speak of secession from Albany and New York City by the Greater Western New York region. But in light of a spate of controversial decisions coming from Albany, this idea has gone mainstream, with many, many more people talking about it. More so, the popularity of anti-establishment candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the region suggests outside-the-box thinking like Greater Western New York becoming an independent state is now the norm, not the outlier. Aselstine says, “I have heard about this at home. Compared to all the “Texit” stories that came out after Brexit, I thought this was an interesting concept. Plus, we have that same conversation about California splitting in two quite often.”

“That being said, where’s the line?” says Aselstine.

For those looking to learn the answer to this question and an understanding behind why Vermont became a state and Western New York didn’t, come to Midsummer Mendon Madness as I’ll give a short ten-minute presentation on the history behind this. It’ll be one of three ten-minute “live TV audience” style presentations being given Thursday evening, July 14th at The Grange (a.k.a., Cibi’s Deliziosi) in the hamlet of Mendon (3894 Rush Mendon Road). The doors open at 7:30 pm and all attendees will have the opportunity to be on-screen extras for a filmmaking project of the Greater Western New York Academy. (See related story on Page 2).

If you’d like to learn more about the goings on of the Greater Western New York region (including the historic treaty that created the line I’ll be talking about on Bastille Day (July 14th), read the current lead story on GreaterWesternNewYork.com. The article also tells of an amazing coincidence you simply won’t believe.

* I’m aware of the current financial analyses that show New York City is funding Western New York. However, this was not the case in the 1970s when there were far fewer mandates and the political power in the State was balanced. I’ve talked to any number of elected officials in the Greater Western New York region and they nearly all agree – whether Democrat or Republican – that if unfunded mandates were eliminated, the budgetary imbalance would also be eliminated. The problem is especially acute in rural school districts without a large enough economic base to sustain unfunded mandates. But I’ll leave it to these elected officials to take the appropriate stand.

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