Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Which City Could Have Become the 51st State?

July 11, 2016

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It would make sense that the novel idea of slicing off the Big Apple from the rest of the state would come from a novelist.

In the 1960s, New York City was suffering as crime rates climbed and the mighty metropolis lurched toward bankruptcy. While long-standing politicians offered few new ideas on how to wake the City That Never Sleeps from its fatal slumber, the unlikely duo of novelist Norman Mailer and columnist Jimmy Breslin seized the opportunity to shake up the status quo during the 1969 Democratic Mayoral Primary election–by running for Mayor and City Council president, respectively.

Trumpeting slogans like “New York Gets an Imagination—Or It Dies!”, the grassroots campaign ran on the ultimatum that for New York City to survive, it had to achieve independent statehood. They proposed putting power in the hands of the neighborhoods, and offered creative yet logistically impossible solutions to air pollution and traffic congestion, including providing every occupant with a bicycle, banning all private cars from Manhattan, and endorsing “Sweet Sundays,” a monthly event when absolutely all mechanized transport—including elevators—would be shut down. Although the candidates lost and the city is still firmly affixed to the rest of the state, New York is now more bike friendly than ever before, showing that even a fictitious-sounding idea can lead to a real solution.

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