Community Board 3 on Staten Island is the least dense district in the city. It ranks lowest for foreign-born share of the population (15 percent), and for the percentage of commuters who get to work without using a car (26.5 percent). A whopping 82.7 percent of its heads of households own their homes, the highest rate in the city by a substantial margin, but it is the least income-diverse section of the city, according to the Furman Center, and the second least race-diverse. It has the city’s lowest rate of serious crime.
“I bass fish. I mountain bike,” the New York City councilmember who represents the area, Joseph Borelli, said on Monday’s Max & Murphy podcast when asked to describe his 51st district, which nearly fully overlaps CB3. “My biggest problem is a lack of sidewalks – not because they’re broken but because it’s just woods and trees. And those are all positive things.”
Borelli says it still feels like a city there. Most big cities in the U.S., he says, “actually look like Staten Island and not the uber-high-density downtowns of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Chicago.” The district is gaining diversity, Borelli says, with Chinese-American homeowners arriving from Brooklyn. But it is also losing people.
“The loss of population on Staten Island is to New Jersey. Which is an interesting dynamic. And I try to remind people that,” he says. “The criticism of Gov. Cuomo is that people are fleeing the state to lower tax jurisdictions. In comparison, Staten Islanders actually flee to go to higher tax jurisdictions in New Jersey, which is a fun fact. That’s why I think the issue for Staten Islanders is the direction of local government.”
“And that’s why I’m a supporter of secession,” Borelli continued. “I don’t believe it is just a cost-benefit analysis. It is a seeking of devolved government where the town executive—whatever the title might be—is more response to that town.”
According to Borelli, Staten Islanders are drawn to New Jersey in part because rising local property taxes in New York have reduced the gap between what folks pay in the Garden State and what they pay here. What’s more, commuting can be easier from New Jersey than up the spine of Richmond County.
For those residents committed to staying, traffic is the most pressing concern – and there are no easy answers. “There’s literally no magic wand for the traffic problem,” Borelli says, because the district is simply far away from Manhattan. According to MTA Trip Planner, if you left City Hall at 5 p.m. today and used mass transit, you’d get to New Haven’s Union Station in two hours and eight minutes, which is six minutes shorter than the trip from City Hall to the Tottenville Station on the SIRR .
Property taxes are another major worry. Borelli is pushing the Council to approve a resolution that would ask state legislators to change the law so that the cap on year-to-year jumps in property taxes—a key driver of the inequities among homeowners built into the system—would be lifted when a property changes hands.
For a district that sustained some damage in Superstorm Sandy, the long timeline to getting resiliency measures in place is another problem, Borelli says. And the size of local budgets is a major concern.
As one of only three Republicans on the Council, Borelli says Corey Johnson has been a more inclusive leader than was Melissa Mark-Viverito. And he backs the move toward a more independent Council as a check and balance to the mayor.
Hear our conversation below—including Borelli’s analysis of the Dan Donovan-Michael Grimm Congressional primary and the chances leading Republican gubernatorial nominee has Marc Molinaro has against Andrew Cuomo.