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New York lawmakers launching listening tour on upstate cities


While New York City gets a lot of attention as a desirable place to live and work, New York state’s other, smaller cities don’t have the same reputation. Lawmakers want to see that change.

The State Senate is launching a bipartisan listening tour next week to hear what local officials, residents, and other stakeholders think could be done to boost New York’s midsize cities.

State Sen. Jeremy Cooney - PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
  • State Sen. Jeremy Cooney
Sen. Jeremy Cooney, a Democrat from Rochester who chairs what’s called the Cities 2 Committee, will launch the tour Monday in Albany, and visit seven other cities over the next two weeks as well.

And unlike other initiatives in the Legislature, Cooney says he’s invited Republicans, who sit in the minority in the Senate, to join him on the tour. Republican Ed Rath, whose district stretches into Rochester, is another member of the Cities 2 Committee.

It’s part of an effort by Cooney, and his colleagues, to identify ways the state could help those cities thrive and become more attractive to new residents after years of decline — and then turn those ideas into bills that could be considered by the full Legislature.

“I think what we have noticed, and what we have observed, is a consistent disinvestment from the cities by the state of New York over decades,” Cooney said in an interview on New York NOW.

Over the past decade, New York City’s population has increased about 7.7 percent, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The population of the entire state, meanwhile, increased by about 4.2 percent, meaning the statewide hike leaned heavily on the city’s growth.

Data from the 2020 census showed that Rochester was now the state's fourth largest city, behind Buffalo and Yonkers, the latter of which surpassed Rochester in population.  The Flower City's population grew to 211,328 people in 2020 from 210,674 in 2010, a gain of 654 residents, according to the Census Bureau. It was the first time since 1950 that the decennial census showed population growth, not loss, in the city.

Because of the state’s lackluster ability to maintain and attract residents, New York lost a seat in Congress this year to another state with stronger population growth.

Lawmakers don’t want that to happen again. But, more importantly, they want the rest of New York’s cities to be as attractive as the five boroughs — for both tourists and people looking for a place to move.

“We know New York City doesn’t have any issues attracting and retaining population,” Cooney said. “For me, it’s, could we economically incentivize recent college graduates or graduate students, tech entrepreneurs who maybe don’t want to live in Northern California, where the cost of living is so high?”

One area Cooney plans to focus on is how to lift more children out of poverty in New York’s smaller cities. As of 2019, about 18 percent of children in New York lived in poverty, and several of the state’s counties with midsized cities exceeded that rate, according to the Census Bureau.

“We know a lot of these cities, from that systemic disinvestment by the state, have high concentrations of child poverty and family poverty,” Cooney said. “There’s an opportunity to learn and to make those investments and correct those wrongs so that all New Yorkers can benefit.”

The stop in Rochester is scheduled for September 29 at City Council chambers starting at 9 a.m.

Dan Clark is host and producer at New York NOW.

Jeremy Moule, CITY's news editor, contributed to this report. He can be reached at