Back in the late 1970s, when I worked for Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, our office followed the changing data about the Empire State closely. It was a habit of Pat Moynihan’s, indeed almost an obsession, to chart the state’s decline.
As a senator, he was especially interested in its representation in Congress. In 1850, New York’s 33 members of the House of Representatives comprised 14 percent of the entire House, and even as late as 1940, when Pat was a boy, the figure was still 10 percent: 45 members out of the total of 435. Today, after the census of 2010, New York has only 27 Representatives in the House—a mere 6 percent of the whole.
And just today the Census Bureau has announced that the Empire State has fallen from third to fourth place in population. California passed New York in 1962; Texas passed it in 2001. Now, Florida has 19.9 million residents compared to New York’s 19.7 million. New York won’t drop further, because Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Ohio are next and none of them are growing fast. Nor will New York City be toppled from its top spot: the next largest city is Los Angeles, but New York is more than twice as populous and is growing faster.
But fourth place isn’t the New York state that Pat Moynihan had grown up in. Back then the state not only had more people than any other, it had more baseball teams—three. In the 1930s and 1940s it had the country’s best known mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, and when Pat was a toddler Franklin D. Roosevelt was its governor.
Today’s New York has lost the preeminence not only in baseball but also in politics, sending to Washington and placing in Albany a drab lot of pols, to say nothing of the Big Apple’s new mayor. Falling from third to fourth in population was inevitable given the growth of the Sun Belt, and New York will never have more baseball teams than California (it’s now five to two). But maybe the days of Roosevelt and La Guardia, Koch and Giuliani, can be recovered. After all, back when Texas had two representatives in Congress to New York’s 33, and 70,000 citizens to New York’s 2.5 million, it still produced Sam Houston. There’s still hope.