Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Gillibrand appointment and rural-urban differences in NY State

Stories in the past few days editions of the New York Times suggest a wide gulf between urban and rural interests in the state of New York with, of course, the urban being dominant. (Only 17.4% of New York's population live in non-metropolitan areas, although 31% live in rural areas--those with fewer than 2,500 people). These stories have been written in the run up to Kirsten Gillibrand's swearing in on Tuesday as U.S. Senator, taking the seat recently vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton. I have already written here about the NYT's early coverage of Gillibrand and her supposed rural ways and interests.

More recent stories such as this one by Kirk Semple suggest that urban New Yorkers--mostly those in NYC, of course--are opposed to the Gillibrand appointment because her positions on issues such as immigration and gun control are contrary to theirs. The suggestion is that her positions have been more appropriate in her mostly rural congressional district. Semple writes:
During her one term in the House of Representatives, from a largely rural, traditionally Republican district, Kirsten E. Gillibrand was on safe political ground adopting a tough stance against illegal immigration.
* * *
But since her appointment by Gov. David A. Paterson last week to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ms. Gillibrand has found herself besieged by immigrant advocates and Democratic colleagues who have cast her as out of step with a majority of the state, with its big cities and sprawling immigrant enclaves.
Another report, this one by Michael Powell, also uses the word "rural" to describe Gillibrand's former congressional district. He writes:
But the road from representing a rural and distinctly conservative district encircling Albany to taking responsibility for the entire state comes with sizable potholes.

Since Gov. David A. Paterson announced her appointment on Friday, she has been lashed for her positions on guns — very much in favor — and illegal immigration — very much against — with downstate Democrats rumbling about primary challenges.
* * *
Ms. Gillibrand faces an electoral gantlet more closely resembling that of the Congressional seat she abandoned than the more leisurely six-year terms of the Senate.
A third NYT story, this one by Jim Dwyer, suggests that Governor Paterson has gained ground with rural New Yorkers, where he historically had little support, by appointing Gillibrand.

All this has me a bit puzzled about the purported rural-urban divide in New York state since a look at the various state maps showing what is rural and what is urban, by different measures, all show Albany and environs to be clearly urban or metropolitan. The city of Albany had almost 100,000 residents in the 2000 Census and is therefore "urban" by any U.S. government measure. Albany County had almost 300,000 residents in the last Census.

Granted, some of the reaches of her former district to the west and north of Albany are less densely populated, and perhaps the region's economy is largely driven by farming. Nevertheless, for the most part Gillibrand represented an urban area. Further, she is herself hardly a country girl, despite the New York Times' earlier characterization of her "wide-eyed, from the farm belt style." Gillibrand grew up in Albany, attended Dartmouth College (admittedly a fairly bucolic setting), but then went to law school at UCLA.

So is the NYT really talking about a rural-urban divide, or would it be fairer just to characterize it as an upstate-downstate, Republican-Democrat, liberal-moderate divide? In any event, the media handling of this once again aligns the culture wars with the rural-urban divide.

No comments: