Staten Island fires the first salvo in battle to secede from New York: The smallest, strongly Republican, borough in the Big Apple is aiming to take its leave and may charge for using its big rubbish dump, writes Peter Pringle

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The Independent Online
AT NOON yesterday a four-cannon salute echoed across the calm waters of New York harbour. The shots came from an old fort on Staten Island where guns once fired against invading British troops in the war of 1812, and this time the guns symbolised another rebellion.

The 100-square-mile suburban island, the smallest and least-known of New York's five boroughs, now has a chance to make a big political fuss. In Tuesday's election the islanders voted 2-1 to secede from New York City, a move that could cut short the Republican revival heralded by Rudy Giuliani's election as mayor.

The mostly white, conservative islanders voted overwhelmingly for Mr Giuliani. They gave him 109,000 votes in a race that was decided by just 44,500 votes. Without the islanders, the incumbent Democratic black mayor, David Dinkins, would have won re-election.

Staten Island, a largely middle-class island that seems more like a small town than part of a sprawling metropolis, feels that it is ignored by City Hall while stuck with New York's huge garbage load. Staten Island is home to the Great Kills landfill, a rubbish dump that is one of the largest in the world.

The move to secede must still be ratified by New York's governor, Mario Cuomo, and by both houses of the New York state legislature. The upper house, or Senate, is controlled by the Republicans and the lower house, or Assembly, by the Democrats.

If the senators voted for secession, they would be siding with the Republican voters of Staten Island but they could harm Mr Giuliani's chances of

re-election. The Democratic assemblymen, who were against secession before the defeat of Mr Dinkins, are now thinking again because secession would give Democrats a better chance of taking back the city. Mr Giuliani is on the fence, so far. He has said he opposes secession but will not try to block it in the legislature.

There is no time limit for the legislature and the governor to act and the battle will be long and hard fought. Mr Giuliani is looking for some kind of compromise, but the islanders are in a rebellious mood.

One of the founders of the secessionist movement, John Marchi, who is a state Republican senator, wondered what all the fuss was about. He emphasised that the islanders were not leaving the country, or even the state. 'We're just asking that Staten Island be allowed the opportunity for self-governance.' Compromise was out of the question, he said. 'If the legislature agreed to give a chauffeur-driven limousine to every resident, we would still say no, no, no. We're not going to step into any golden cages.'

Other islanders said they regretted the day the linking Verrazano bridge was built. The islanders feel they pay high New York City taxes and most of the benefits and city services go to the badly-off who live in the ghettos of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.

But whether the islanders would be better-off on their own is not clear. The state legislature may not grant them full powers to levy taxes on things like banks, corporations and beer, as New York is allowed to do. Limits on their fiscal freedom might be such as to dilute the enthusiasm for secession.

One matter high on the agenda for the coming battle is sure to be rubbish. At present, Staten Island provides the other four city boroughs with a convenient dumping ground, and dumps, of course, can be taxed as well as banks and beer.

(Map omitted)