Election Highlights NY’s Upstate-Downstate Divide


New York’s upstate-downstate split was on full display this election year with Republican candidates warning of meddling from New York City while attempts by Democrats like Gov. Andrew Cuomo to bridge the age-old fissure largely fell flat.

Cuomo’s big wins in New York City and its suburbs helped him defeat Republican Rob Astorino on Tuesday. He won 87 percent of the Bronx, 80 percent of Manhattan and 79 percent of Brooklyn.

But the governor won only eight upstate counties and claimed less than a third of the vote in 15 others. Astorino, the Westchester County executive, won 46 counties — all but one in upstate.

Party loyalty and ideology underlie much of the disparity. Democrats outnumber Republicans in New York City by more than 6-to-1, but hold only a narrow lead upstate. A generally dimmer economic outlook upstate is one factor, while Cuomo’s gun control measure, deeply popular in the city, isn’t well-liked in rural areas.

In Buffalo’s Erie County, Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 2-to-1. Cuomo focused much of his campaigning on the state’s second-largest city and chose former Buffalo congresswoman Kathy Hochul as his running mate, yet the governor managed to win only 52 percent of the vote there.

Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said historic resentment can’t be underestimated.

“There’s been a sense among upstaters that the only thing Albany cares about is taking care of New York City and downstate,” he said. “I’ve heard upstaters say, ‘if only we were our own state we’d be much better off.’

Then there’s resentment in New York City that they have to go to Albany to deal with state government.”

Such tension has stretched back for years. During the Civil War, New York City Mayor Fernando Wood, prompted in part by frustration with Albany, proposed the idea of breaking away from the state entirely. In 1982, Mayor Ed Koch derailed a gubernatorial run when he told an interviewer that life in the suburbs was “a waste” and rural life “a joke.”

Upstate leaders, on the other hand, have long viewed New York City as too liberal, too urban and too influential.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio helped Democrats this election with the goal of securing a state Senate majority as he pursued measures that have been blocked by GOP senators, including a higher minimum wage.

The GOP seized on his involvement. Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Islander, said de Blasio was “raising liberal New York City money” for his cause and warned of the chance “everything would be dominated by New York City.”

The GOP ultimately picked up two seats to claim a Senate majority and Cuomo did worse upstate than he did in 2010, when he carried all but 13 counties. He lost Buffalo and its surrounding counties in that race, however, and has since made the region a priority.

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