Virtual town hall verdict? Split NY in two

COURTESY OF SENTINEL PUBLICATIONSTop row from left, participating in Thursday’s Town Hall Meeting were Chris Carosa, publisher of Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel; state Assemblyman Steve Hawley of the 139th District; and bottom row from left, state Sen. George Borrello, 57th District; and Buffalo attorney and author James Ostrowski.

Those who attended a Greater Western New York (Virtual) Town Hall Meeting held Thursday, were asked, “What will an independent Greater Western New York Region look like to you?”

After hearing three keynote speakers in the Zoom meeting each spoke in favor of a different vision for an independent Greater Western New York region, the people who were in attendance for the call joined one of three breakout rooms – set up geographically – to talk about which option they would like best.

While they all agreed there was a disconnect between the priorities of New York City and Albany politicians and those of most people living in Western New York, the three speakers each offered a competing solution, said Chris Carosa, publisher of Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, who moderated Thursday’s town hall.

Assemblyman Stephen Hawley of Batavia, who is sponsoring a bill which would give New York voters a chance to vote “yes” or “no” on a two-state model, kicked off the event. He said becoming a separate state offers a permanent solution, albeit one that requires both state and federal agreement. State Sen. George Borrello of Jamestown is sponsoring a bill to split New York into three separate autonomous zones. While this plan does run the risk of being reversed by Albany, it has the advantage of not requiring action by the federal government. Rounding out the three keynoters, Buffalo author and attorney James Ostrowski, explained how nullification, which was successfully employed against the SAFE Act, represents the easiest path because it requires neither state nor federal action as it relies solely on local elected officials. He explained that this non-violent form of protest has demonstrated far more consistent success than violent demonstrations.

Those on the call then went into breakout rooms four about 15 minutes and talked about the two-state model versus the autonomous zones versus nullification. They were then supposed to vote on the solution they preferred, before the town hall resumed.

When the 15 minutes were up and the town hall got back together, Carosa checked in with spokespeople from the three breakout rooms.

John Hodgetts, speaking for one breakout room, said, “New York City keeps saying they’re sending us more money than we send them. I don’t buy it. I’ve seen the spin. I know how they work their numbers. I’m tired of being held hostage by The Big Apple. They don’t really agree with the norms of outside of the five boroughs.”

Hodgetts said those in his breakout room talked about the SAFE Act gun control legislation.

“Overnight, basically, people were made criminals just by the number of bullets that were allowed in the magazine of their weapon of choice,” he said. “We also talked about an assault weapon. I’m sorry, but nobody can define that thing to me.”

Hodgetts said those in the Ellicott breakout room didn’t have time to vote before the breakout sessions ended, so Carosa asked them to vote by sending messages to Hodgetts. When the results were in, Hodgetts said, “I think that as a group, we were leaning towards autonomy.”

Mark Glogowski reported on another breakout room’s discussion and vote. There were five people in that room. Glogowski said there was a lot of concern in his group about the likelihood of being able to carry out any of the three possible solutions — especially the two-state model.

“We have to go through the U.S. Congress, basically. so the probability’s going to be probably zilch,” he said of the two-state approach. “Three of the people would like to see that one, if that’s an option that we have to go through,” he said.

Glogowski said two people in the group liked the autonomous regions, for a variety of reasons.

“I’m the loner. I basically don’t like any of the options,” he said. “What we should do is basically recognize New York state’s constitution already solves the problem if we were allowed to follow it.”

Glogowski said the two-state system got the most votes. He added, however, “It’s highly unlikely it will happen.”

In the third room, participants came up with a fourth approach, spokesperson Mark Klugo said.

“It’s really utilizing all three in tandem,” he said. “In the early part of the conversation, we had a vote for nullification and then a vote for the two-state solution. As our conversation went on, we really thought the nullification approach was a great way to pressure Albany immediately to get their attention and then go for the two-state solution and the fallback being the autonomous zone.

“In a negotiation, you’re going to start with (asking) for everything and then perhaps in that negotiation, they’ll at least allow us to operate independently from Albany,” he said. “Using nullification in the meantime to put tremendous pressure on Albany and focus their attention on our dissatisfaction on how to accommodate the people living out there in the region.”

Carosa, the moderator, said the breakout rooms came back with three different answers on the three options. He told the participants he had just started a poll.

“Everybody can vote for their favorite choice individually,” he said. “If you have a fourth choice, unfortunately, that’s not an option right now.”

Carosa closed the poll after 14 people voted, in the Zoom call’s chat room, for their favorite solution, or about 66 percent of those in attendance.

“The winner, by definitely 2-to-1, was separate state. Autonomous zone was second and nullification was last — very interesting,” he said. “The experiment was this. The poll was like the House of Representatives. That gave you, say, a population-based answer. The breakout rooms were like separate counties or separate states, each having one vote,” he said. “That gave you sort of a different answer. The breakout rooms, everybody scored the same. In the population vote, the separate state was the most favored. Very, very interesting.”

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