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How Staten Island Went Red

This is a long haul, multi-part post.
I had thrown up a version of this Saturday evening,
but couldn’t leave it alone.
You’ve been warned.

That USA Today graphic showing the red/blue divide in each state at the county level is interesting. Take New York. Rock solid Blue State, considered such a lock that the Bush/Cheney campaign wrote the place off. Kerry blew them out, winning with a buffer of over a million votes.

But looking at that county map shows that, other than NYC, the state is fairly red and up for grabs, with only a couple of small but dense Blue dots beyond Fun City. Reagan took it all in ’84. And NYC’s reputation as an impenetrable liberal fortress is overblown. Rudy, and to a lesser extent Nanny Bloomie, proved that.

Some “conservatives” (and Democrats) will say, “They’re not real Republicans.” My response to is, “Keep it up, assholes, and your time on top of the pile will be shortlived and brutal.” Anyone thinking like that has drawn deep from the Kool Aid carafe, no matter what party affiliation is checked off on their voter registration card. If the three Gs (God, Gays & Guns-YES! NO! YES!”) define being Republican, you’re Party is just as fucked as the other side.

Take my rock: Staten Island (“Shao-lin” for you Wu-Tangers out there). It’s considered the GOP’s strongest bunker in the boroughs; credited with putting both Guliani and Bloomberg in City Hall. This time around, Bush took the Island, yet in the 2000 race, the rock went in the hole for Gore.

That Republican veneer Staten Island has acquired was an act of evolved self-preservation. In the eyes of the other boroughs back in the day, we were an afterthought. To the city’s Democrat bosses, we were a redheaded stepkid of a borough; a bucolic backwater, sparsely populated with parochial rubes who could be tapped for tax dollars and ignored when it came time to spend the dough. Since you could only get here by way of the Ferry, to most “New Yorkers” we could well have been on Mars, for all they knew. Even adventurous souls who crossed the harbor never ventured beyond the landing on the Staten Island side. They just reboarded the boat and retraced their trip, because “there’s nothing over there to see.” So those bosses felt no political inhibition from, when faced with a particularly messy problem, literally dumping it on us.

Then, three things happened:

They built the VZ: The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. And all Hell broke loose. Staten Island is still regarded as the most “countrified” borough, even though the only working farm left in the city is in Queens (don’t tell me about Decker; it’s just a glorified pumpkin patch). That perception is nostalgia; Those days are long gone.

Opening the VZ led to a tsunami of residential development. Staten Island now holds a population on a par with a city the size of Pittsburgh. Hey, Brooklyn? Fuck You and … Oh, that’s rights right… WE stable the horses you fuckers rode over the bridge on..and brought your Gotti motherfuckers and blew our guys up….

Clusters of townhouses and strip malls were getting thrown up everywhere. It started on the Island’s southern end and
relentlessly, remorselessly marched north, consuming those farms and other open spaces in a relentless drive that had real estate prices rising to ridiculous heights. Where once one stately house stood on a quarter/half acre of land there were now a dozen or more townhouses. Roads that had originated as cowpaths became clogged with traffic all day long. People fleeing Brooklyn and the other boroughs, to raise their families in what was compared to the rest of the city considered a safe, sane place, unencumbered (well, then maybe; not true now) of the crime and grime of “The City,” bought houses that Staten Islanders gaped at in amazement, bemusement, then a growing fury. In the lust for profits that went totally unchecked by City Hall, every square foot of space was being earmarked to build these clap-trap eyesores. It was like horizontal apartment buildings. Backyards were postage stamps; front yards were non-existant. Most houses were five-six feet away from the street. Driveways, if even considered, left your car hanging out over the sidewalk. If your household had more than one set of wheels, you were on the street, as were your neighbors. Battles for street parking became a bitter, running joke. You learned quickly that certain “neighbors” considered the curb in front of their house private property, and Heaven help the uninformed schmuck who put their car there.

The Democratic bosses running the city paid lip service to regulating the development, and did mostly nothing to upgrade or improve Staten Island’s infrastructure. Pitched battles were fought with City Hall to keep vast swaths of Staten Island, where untouched forests and watersheds provided both open spaces and vital areas for runoff from rainwater streaming down from Staten Island’s hilly spine, protected from the bulldozer’s wrath. At the same time, Staten Island screamed for the city to improve the Island’s sewage and transportation systems. Flatlands which would gather the rainwater and lead it to the Island’s eastern shores were now stacked up with these newly minted communities, and they flooded like clockwork when the rain came. These houses should never have been built without specific planning to handle the runoff, but the city couldn’t be bothered, and the real estate developers couldn’t give a shit.

You want an example of how nutty these developers were? While in high school, I’d spend my summer weekdays working construction for my Pee Wee football coach. Sophmore year we laid in fifty six foundations for one of these developments, in what everyone knew was a natural watershed. We were pumping water out of those holes while we were pouring the concrete into the forms. The following summer, all the basement windows in every single unit had been cut in half from the foundations’ settling. The first of the steps leading to the front doors were gone. And people were shelling out 200 grand and up to buy these disasters. You couldn’t build the suckers fast enough to meet the demand. Since the opening of the VZ, Staten Island’s population has doubled, with almost no control asserted by City Hall as to how that growth would be managed.

To an overwhelming mass of New York metro residents, and especially its Manhattan-centric Democrat movers and shakers, this was trivial. Just as the current crop of repugnant fucks consider everything between the Hudson River and the Hollywood Hills “flyover country,” Staten Island was “driveover country.” The Verrazzano was built to have a southern access to the nation’s Interstate system via the three bridges connecting Staten Island to New Jersey. Manhattan was too clogged with traffic coming and going through the Hudson River tunnels; the George Washington Bridge was under siege from the trucks bringing goods from the mainland. Long Islanders wanted to go to Atlantic City and the Poconos, dammit!

As far as transportation, the city-shit, the whole damn STATE told us to go fuck ourselves. “Get in your car and drive, because there ain’t ever gonna be near enough busses.” They’re still saying the same thing today.

That bridge they built to start this whole mess in motion? They sold a pile of twenty year bonds to finance the construction, and used the tolls collected to pay off the paper. Well, those notes are long paid, and instead of dropping the tolls–the VZ is the only interborough bridge charging a toll–they just keep jacking the toll higher and higher. And the money gets spent anywhere but here.

End result? A boatload of pissed off people. In the fastest growing county in New York State, the only borough with a positive net migration rate. With the second highest per-capita income and lowest number of residents living below the poverty line in all NYC. A population living with the harsh realization that City Hall–the NYC Democratic Machine HQ–couldn’t give a shit what we had to say about anything.

coming soon
Episode Two:
“Travelin’ Jack” gets Abscammed

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