Many Staten Islanders say they have never really felt like they’re part of New York City. They even announce it to visitors arriving at St. George’s ferry terminal, where t-shirts and coffee mugs sport the well-worn phrase, “Staten Island: The Forgotten Borough” – which seems as much a badge of honor as a complaint.
New York City Councilman Joseph Borelli played on those enduring sentiments in late June, shortly after the stunning “Brexit,” in which the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, coyly suggesting that perhaps it was time to revisit a “Stexit” vote – by which Staten Island might secede from New York City and become its own municipality. He also explored the issue in Slant, looking back at the history behind Staten Island’s discontent.
The high point for the secession movement arrived on Nov. 3,1993, the morning after Staten Islanders voted to sever ties with New York City by a 2-to-1 margin. The Republican-majority state Senate approved the secession, but the Democrat-held Assembly foiled the island’s bid for independence by referring the issue to the New York City Council, which blocked it.
Borelli is now comparing a 1992 secession feasibility study by the College of Staten Island to an ongoing city-commissioned study examining whether Staten Island gets its fair share of city services.
“The intention was clear,” Borelli said of the new study. “The intention was to draw a parallel” to the initial study, which endorsed secession and laid the groundwork for the 1993 exit vote.
City Councilman Steven Matteo played down any impending calls for secession, however, explaining that at the moment it’s not a realistic goal.
“When you talk about secession, clearly it’s not going to happen right now,” Matteo said. “Secession comes from Staten Islanders feeling like we’re not getting our fair share.”
The ongoing “fair share study,” Matteo said, is a practical step to ensure that the borough receives the city services it should during budget season. To even consider moving toward secession, there would need to be further study of what would happen with park land, property taxes and local government, among other things, Matteo explained.
The deeper issue is Staten Island’s ability to take action on its own.
“We need more local control here,” said Matteo. “What works for the city doesn’t necessarily work for Staten Island.”
Shaun Taylor, 36
“I think it would be interesting – interesting good … I think independent, as our own, we'll have more to offer, like to minorities. It'd probably open up the job market to us.”
“I know we're a part of the five boroughs, but it doesn't seem like we're a part of the five boroughs because when they mention the boroughs they mention everyone but Staten Island. … We should have never been a borough in the first place.”
Pedro Reyes, 33
“I think that'd be great. … The city is different from Staten Island. I guess because it's across the water. It's more retirees and houses, not tenements and buildings. …The city is a little crazy. Staten Island is a little more suburban. … You don't see too many stores or traffic. It's a little more quiet. More quiet than anything.”
“It's just a different type of living, I guess.”
Joe Yacca, 46
“I was always of the opinion that the secession failed, but it should have gone through. I think that it probably would have been a bit better for Staten Islanders than lumping Staten Island in with the city. I mean, 9 million (New York City residents) and less than a million (Staten Island residents). ...There's just such a dichotomy between the two of them. I think that Staten Island would have been better off, maybe even bringing money into Staten Island as a whole. In a way, it’s a hub between New York and New Jersey.”
“All those monies go to either the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority or the city for the Verrazano. I think Staten Islanders lost out on a lot of that potential revenue to bring what they're trying to bring now, gentrifying the whole waterfront. That could have been done many, many years ago.”
Haxhire Kushi, 52
“Leaving the city is impossible. … Economically, they cannot. They depend (on the city). … If they create good jobs in Staten Island, like they plan to build a new center of shopping and malls, then maybe, but still, good jobs and good pay are in the city.”
“I used to be from Albania, capital city Tirana. It's not like New York City, but now I've gotten used to being a part of it.”
Kenneth Daly, 55
“I don't know how that would work out. If I had any kind of say in it … if my vote was going to go somewhere and mean something, I'd go against that idea.”
“I remember hearing a lot of talk about Staten Island leaving the five boroughs. What was it, in 1993? I remember reading about it and watching the news channels then … now it seems to have faded away, the idea.”
“Personally, I don't think it would affect me. This city is going to hell anyway, all five boroughs.”
Leslie Arredondo, 39
“I probably wouldn't be for it. I like being from New York City.”
“And tax-wise, it would be worse for us. … If you live upstate, taxes are higher there if you work in New York City. So tax wise, it's not great. And you wouldn't get the benefit of the discounted bridge. As residents of Staten Island and residents of New York City simultaneously, we get a break on all the bridges, not just the Verrazano.”
“There's so much migration from Brooklyn. It's changing. It's got an old-school Brooklyn feel now. … The old guard is very, very conservative, so there's a resistance from all of them. But they're getting really old, so eventually they're going to die.” (Laughs.)
Catherin Ardelan, 29
“I think this is not a good idea. Many years ago they decided that this is all the city and Staten Island is a part of New York City.”
“This is better. Staten Island is part of New York. If they separate, they'll need another government seated. Transit would be separate. This would not be good. Another tax … it'd be more expensive. Leaving would be more expensive.”
Lisa Purrone, 23
“I don't see a direct benefit that we would get from it.”
“Well, I don't know. There is something to it, that we're the forgotten borough in a lot of ways. At the same time, I don't know where the power would go to. … I think it would just lead to a whole can of worms. Who would be fighting for who. Staten Island is a very interesting borough. … There's a really huge disparity between the rich on the island and the poor on the island. I don't know what that would look like.”