2001-07-28 / Columnists

On The Beach… with Beverly Baxter

Welcome to Rockaway City! That's right. Although it may sound rather hard to believe, I can assure you it's true. In 1915, through the will of the
people, Rockaway voted for succession from the City of New York in their quest to become a self-governing city. The Charter was passed by the Assembly and amended and passed by the Senate. We are a legitimate city if we choose to be.
  Let me tell you how this discovery, after 85 years, was made. While reading an essay entitled, "The Succession and the History of Home Rule Doctrine in the New York State Constitution", a 23 page document outlining succession of Staten Island and how Home Rule applies, by Robert V. Fodera, John Baxter noticed two words that seemed to jump off the page. The author cited a place called "Rockaway City" as a successful example of succession. John was stunned. "Is it Rockaway, New Jersey? Rockaway, Montana? Could it in fact be Rockaway, Queens? John was on a mission to learn more.

He first went to Chambers Street, where archives on old laws pertaining to New York City are kept. He found one page that described "the fifth ward of Queens now known as Rockaway city."  Convinced that it existed and determined to dig for more information, John went to the libraries; but after his search at the main branch on 42 Street was to no avail, John was ready to give up. It was only through luck and sheer tenacity that he struck gold at the branch on 34 Street and Fifth Avenue. It took him awhile, however.

The librarian there kept mixing up the index number with the record number. It was only by changing around the sequence of the numbers that John made the discovery. There it was: The Charter for Rockaway City. For eighty-five years it had lain dormant under misfiled reference numbers until now, the first time where the political climate is so ripe for its discovery.
  Let me give you some historical information. At the turn-of-the-century,
during the height and reign of Tammany Hall, it behooved Tammany Hall to support and encourage Rockaway's succession. There was a reform movement in 1905. Robert Moses was one of the leaders.

Tammany Hall wanted to find new ways to continue to do things the old way. They sought to establish a place, a separate municipality that was within close proximity to the city, but out of its glare and jurisdiction. If Rockaway became a separate city, it would be the perfect place.

The people of Rockaway voted for succession and a Charter was made. However, in 1915, the people of New York City voted into office for the first time a non-Tammany Hall Mayor. His name was Puroy Mitchell; but since he was independent of Tammany Hall, he had little interest in Rockaway City. He neither passed nor vetoed the Charter.

The political climate of the time was ripe for Rockaway's succession then. Today, for the first time in Nassau
County's recent history, there is a slight Democratic majority, the time
is ripe now for succession...if it is the will of the people of Rockaway.
  There have been other areas that have sought succession. In 1898, when the Greater City of New York was formed, Staten Island sought succession, but they didn't have a Charter. Staten Island was a place for quarantine; and later, in the 1930s, it was used as a warehouse for mentally ill children.

Even as recently as November 1993, Staten Island voted 65% in favor of succession; however, in March of 1994 Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver declared that succession legislation required approval from the New York City Council and the Mayor in the form of a Home Rule Message. Since neither the Mayor nor the City Council supported succession, it was not enacted.

A considerable reason was that it would have fiscally devastated the city; while Rockaway is considered a burden. Although Staten Island's continuous attempts have failed, they have benefited. Each time they threatened succession, they received more services, and the City of New York had to find another dumping ground: Rockaway.
  Another example of the people's will to succeed can be found in the court case of the Village of Lawrence vs. the City of New York. Lawrence successfully succeeded in 1929 despite objections by the Board of Estimate and the Mayor. The will of the people prevailed.
  The clear difference between Staten Island and Rockaway is that Rockaway already has a Charter, a blueprint for a self-governing city. The Charter is 332 pages and clearly lays out a structure for a government and municipal services.

According to quite a few attorneys who have read the Charter, it is their rendered opinion that the Charter for Rockaway City is legitimate. It can only be over-turned by new legislation. Of course it would have to be up
to the will of the Rockaway people of today and amended; but that is precisely what we have been bequeathed: a choice to determine our own future. To be continued....

Happy Anniversary and bon voyage to Barbara and Dennis Morris as they embark on a wonderful Holland America cruise to Alaska!

See you on the beach!

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