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Upstate versus downstate: John Flanagan says he won't go there

Newly elected State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan,

Newly elected State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, seen in a Dec. 2013 photo, said on Tuesday, May 12, 2015 that he won't separate upstate and downstate, calling New York "one state." Photo Credit: Newsday/ John Paraskevas

Newly elected State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan had this to say during a news conference in Albany Tuesday:

"I am going to be so unbelievably clear," he said. "This is one state ... so you're not going to hear me talk about upstate-downstate."

Instead, Flanagan said, "You're going to hear me talk about the state of New York and if people want to chatter about that and try and create a divide, that's up to them. But I am telling you, from my standpoint, the fact that I'm from Long Island has no bearing. I am a colleague in the State Senate and what's good for Jamestown, what's good for Plattsburgh or Glens Falls or Utica or Syracuse or Rochester is good for the state of New York."

Flanagan, actually, is on to something. An alliance of senators, of both parties, from upstate and Long Island would not be a bad thing. In fact, such an alliance may, someday, become a necessity should Democrats regain control of the State Senate.

Even so, it remains almost impossible to overestimate how essential the Long Island Nine -- as the region's bloc of Republican senators is known -- are to Nassau and Suffolk counties.

"In Albany, it's always been Manhattan first, [the rest of] New York City second and everybody else coming in third to scramble for whatever is left over," said Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant who works mostly with Republican candidates. "That bloc of Long Island senators is vitally important to protecting Long Island interests."

Kevin Law, head of the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, put it pragmatically, pointing out that Long Island senators often have had to work to get what Nassau and Suffolk need.

Take schools, he said: The region has 17 percent of the state's students, yet gets 12 percent of school aid. "And if we didn't have those senators in their positions, it would be less," Law said.

This year alone, Law said, the bloc managed to make Long Island businesses eligible for state programs that began as upstate-only initiatives. The programs include Start-Up NY, which allows eligible new and expanding businesses to operate tax-free for 10 years on some university or college campuses.

"There are people who continue to stereotype the suburbs as being a place where everybody is rich," said Lawrence Levy, dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.

"This is not our mother's and father's suburb, and there are a lot of people who don't understand the enormous challenges suburban areas, including Long Island, face," Levy said. "Flanagan understands the challenges."

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano agreed. "Having a Long Islander as majority leader will serve as a strong voice for our region," he said in a statement.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, in a statement, said: "It is great news for our region to know that John Flanagan will protect our fair share and help make the kinds of smart investments we need to build a better Long Island."

Flanagan did not include New York City in his "what's-good-for" list.

Perhaps that was an oversight -- or not.

"Should Republicans someday lose their majority in the Senate, you could see upstate Democrats and downstate Republicans begin voting together to protect against the dominance of New York City interests in Albany," Dawidziak said.

"That hasn't happened in a long, long time," he said, not since Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt were governors. "But it could. "

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