IN PRINT: The Two New Yorks Summer 2011

The Two New Yorks

Published in Government, Law and Policy Journal

By Robert B. Ward

Robert B. Ward

ABSTRACT: The perception of an unfair relationship between the Empire State and its largest city is longstanding. The belief in a skewed relationship between the “two New Yorks” is not a partisan matter; Democrats and Republicans sometimes sing the same song, if different verses. The suspicion and occasional bitterness flows in both directions between residents of New York City and upstate.

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Deputy Director Robert Ward leads the Institute’s research on state and local government finance and on New York State government. The full article referenced here is reprinted with permission from Government, Law and Policy Journal, Summer 2011, Vol, 13,
No. 1, published by the New York State Bar Association, One Elk Street, Albany, NY 12207.

Signposts of such thinking are many. They include, for example, former Mayor Ed Koch’s portrayal of Upstate as “sterile ... a joke” in an infamous Playboy interview that is often blamed for costing him the 1982 Democratic nomination for governor. Political figures and pundits, both upstate and in the city, have argued for splitting the two apart. Virtually every year, the state budget debate includes claims that New York City is shortchanged; that upstate pays for liberal policies imposed from the big city; that suburban schools do not receive a fair share of education assistance; and other regional grievances that tend to be mutually contradictory.

This article reviews major developments over time in the relationship between the two New Yorks. It concludes that disputes over “fairness” may distract from more important considerations that affect all the state’s regions equally. Such concerns might include the overall state-local division of authority — and whether more attention should focus on how effectively state budget dollars are used, rather than the issue of who gets how much.


The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy research arm of the State University of New York, conducts fiscal and programmatic research on American state and local governments. It works closely with federal, state, and local government agencies nationally and in New York, and draws on the State University’s rich intellectual resources and on networks of public policy academic experts throughout the country.