This originally appeared in the Long Island Business News.
For unity, start with a symbol
Walking on the campus of Suffolk Community College recently, I noticed there were flags representing the United States, New York and Suffolk County. Go into a town hall or village hall and you will see the aforementioned flags plus a flag representing the local municipality.
What you won’t see is a flag representing Long Island. This has to change, especially now that the New York Senate is under Republican control and nine of those Republicans are Long Island-based, including Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
Given the current state of the state, it has never been more important for Long Islanders to work together. Establishing a Long Island flag serves as a symbolic yet significant step toward reminding folks – particularly our elected officials – that we need to think of ourselves as Long Islanders.
Our position on a specific issue should stem from how it affects us as Long Islanders, not just on how it impacts our school district, village, town and county. Having a Long Island flag fly alongside the country, state and local municipality flags in official buildings would serve as a healthy reminder that there is a bigger picture to take into consideration, especially when it comes to recruiting companies to locate in our region.
The Long Island business community would benefit because the greater the effort we put into thinking of ourselves as Long Islanders, the more unified we will appear as a region. And the more unified we are, the better the image Long Island will enjoy as place to do business.
The whole of Long Island is much greater than the sum of its parts. For example, working independently, the Town of Islip can boast about having an airport and a foreign trade zone. Working as part of a unified region, however, those assets can be extolled in conjunction with the fact that Long Island generates well north of $100 billion annually in economic activity and is home to close to 20 four-year colleges and universities, not to mention Cold Spring Harbor and Brookhaven National laboratories.
So why doesn’t Long Island have its own flag? It’s because there’s no government of Long Island. Obviously, there’s plenty of government. But because no overriding entity, no “Long Island government,” exists, there has never been a governing body to call for the creation of a flag to represent Long Island.
The absence of a flag is only a symptom. The problem: Long Island has long suffered an identity crisis. For instance, Brooklyn and Queens – two-fifths of New York City – are physically located on Long Island, but good luck getting residents from those two boroughs to refer to themselves as Long Islanders. In fact, good luck getting out of either borough alive if you insist they refer to themselves as Long Islanders.
Then you have the “Manhasset/Massapequa/Mattituck” factor. Three very different hamlets, but each one as much a part of the Long Island landscape as the other two. There is no such thing as a “typical” Long Island town, and there is no one iconic image that represents Long Island, despite Charles Wang’s best efforts. As a result, you have the well-documented fragmentation that has prevented Long Island from being taken seriously not only in Albany, but in Washington and around the rest of the country.
Does having a Long Island flag solve all our problems? Not necessarily. But it wouldn’t take much to create a Long Island flag. We could form a commission with representatives from both counties and all of Long Island’s towns as well as some folks from the private, civic and education sectors. It would be their job to settle on and approve a design – the simpler the better – and voilá: a significant first step toward greater unity amongst an otherwise fragmented region. It’s an idea worth saluting and pursuing.
Michael Watt is president of Long Island Inc., a consulting firm based in Babylon.