By Sydney Kashiwagi | December 10, 2019
CITY HALL — After weeks of Island secession talk, Councilmen Joe Borelli and Steven Matteo formally unveiled legislation Tuesday that would put together a task force to study whether Staten Island can secede from New York City.
Though it’s unclear where the more than four dozen other City Council members stand on secession, at least two members don’t seem to be on board with the effort.
One is North Shore Councilwoman Debi Rose, a Democrat, who said she was not invited to sign on as a co-sponsor on the legislation and does not support the prospect of Staten Island seceding from New York City nor Borelli’s bill to study it.
Another is City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, an ally of Councilwoman Rose in the running for mayor, who said he is undecided on whether studying secession is a good idea just yet.
Johnson made it clear to reporters Tuesday he thinks Staten Island leaving the rest of the city is a bad idea. He said he would be willing to talk to the rest of the Island’s City Council delegation about the effort before saying whether he supports studying secession.
CORY JOHNSON: ‘I THINK IT WOULD BE SAD’
“I think it would be really sad if [secession] ultimately happened,” Johnson said. “ I haven’t thought through enough the politics of how this would all happen in the state Legislature and with the home rule and all of that, but I wouldn’t want to see Staten Island leave the city,” Johnson said. “We’re a city of five boroughs and I want us to stay that way.”
“I don’t live on Staten Island, so I don’t want to pretend I could speak to those issues or pretend that I know all of the feelings that people there might have,” Johnson continued when asked whether he thought Staten Islanders had valid concerns to want to leave the rest of the city. “But I think it would be a real travesty to lose a really wonderful and important borough as part of our entire city.”
Councilwoman Rose has not commented on why she is opposed to secession, but Borelli has said he wants her to join in and support his legislation.
The South Shore councilman said he’s not concerned his push to secede could be stymied if Johnson is not on board.
Instead, Borelli said he is looking forward to having a discussion about the effort with the speaker and would push forward with secession until he is term-limited out of office come 2025.
“I have a maximum of six years in the City Council, I will carry this bill through the rest of this term, I’ll carry it in the next term and as long as I have the ability, I will try to do,” Borelli said.
“Staten Islanders complain to me very accurately and precisely about problems they face and unfortunately, even as a City Council member, I don’t have the authority and power to actually solve some of them. If we secede, we would have the power to solve some of those problems,” Borelli continued.
ISLAND’S FIRST ATTEMPT
Staten Islanders voted overwhelmingly in the 1990s for a secession study and later a non-binding referendum to secede from New York City.
The state Senate also approved a secession bill then, but former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver refused to allow a similar measure to be voted on in the Assembly without a “home rule message” from New York City.
Home rule messages are official requests the City Council makes of the New York State Legislature to pass special laws that affect New York City.
Borelli has said seceding would require a home rule approval from the city and the state would need to be on board too because only the state Legislature can form or abolish a county.
Asked if he thought a home rule message was needed today, Johnson said it was “far too early” to say, noting the public would still need to weigh in on secession and a debate would still need to take place on it in the state Legislature.
MAYOR CALLS IT ‘POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM’
Mayor Bill de Blasio is vehemently opposed to the Island seceding from the rest of the city and thinks the current effort is no more than an example of “political opportunism.”
It’s also unclear how far Borelli’s effort will get in the state Legislature.
Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican, is the only top leader in the state Legislature who has agreed to weigh in on Staten Island secession. He said he would be willing to entertain the idea if it comes to the Assembly floor.
“Councilman Borelli knows his community and constituents better than anyone. If this measure was brought to the Assembly floor, I’d certainly be giving it a closer look and keeping an open mind,” Kolb said “The legislative process, including whether or not a home rule message is deemed necessary, is controlled by the majority. Ultimately, the future of Staten Island should be decided by Staten Island voters.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the offices of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate’s Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Minority Leader state Sen. John Flanagan have all either not returned requests for comment on whether they support secession or have declined to say where they stand.
Borelli and Matteo’s bill is now to the City Council’s Committee on Government Operations where it will be heard.