Hurricane Irene is just a memory in the five boroughs, but upstate, this summer’s succession of storms continues to wreak havoc. Even as city residents prepared to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11, New Yorkers living along the Susquehanna River in the Southern Tier were fleeing their homes, hoping that that flood waters would prove merciful.
Their suffering and losses come after earlier floods ruined homes and businesses in the North Country beyond Albany in the days just after Irene passed through.
The summer of 2011 has been a disaster for upstate. But, truth be told, the weather is only the latest catastrophe to visit the region. Quietly but relentlessly, upstate New York has receded into a seemingly permanent recession. From Albany to Buffalo, Newburgh to Plattsburgh, along the Great Lakes and the great rivers, upstaters have watched helplessly as old industries have collapsed, plants have closed, and even reliable companies like Carrier and General Electric have fallen on hard times.
A succession of governors promised to reverse this disturbing trend, but the silent downtowns of Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany itself speak to broken promises and unrealized dreams. Those of us who rarely venture north of the Westchester-Putnam border would be shocked to see the extent of upstate’s economic decline.
Ironically, however, this year’s storms may have helped generate needed attention from downstaters and a welcome commitment from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Mr. Cuomo, who has spent a good portion of his life upstate, appears to appreciate the plight of the old cities, towns and hamlets there as few of his immediate predecessors have. He has been a constant presence during the upstate flooding, and he took special care to dispatch National Guard troops to the region in the run-up to Irene.
Upstate has felt neglected for decades, with some justification. Top state offices have been dominated by downstaters who might have had a hard time finding Binghamton on a map before their elections. Mr. Cuomo has a chance to call attention to the plight of upstaters who have suffered through a generation of job losses and lethargic attempts at revival.
The storms were a catastrophe. But if upstate finally has caught the attention of decision-makers, assistance may, at last, be on the way.