A lot of commentators are saying that the war between New York and New Jersey is over now that the Supreme Court has finally ruled that 90 percent of Ellis Island belongs to New Jersey. I would argue that, if anything, the ruling may make things worse.
After all, this is a war that stretches back to the 1600s when the Leni Lenape Indians were living in New Jersey and the Dutch ruled New York. The first publicized shot in the Border War was, by some calculations, in 1801 when Alexander Hamilton started to build a pier on the Jersey City side of the Hudson and discovered, to his amazement, that the New York City Council considered anything extending into the river a part of New York.Today, that would be like Mayor Rudolph Giuliani telling Donald Trump how to build a casino in Atlantic City.
For many years, I was a correspondent in the Border War. My first assignment in this conflagration was in the mid-1980s when I worked for the North Jersey Herald-News in Passaic. I was sent out to shopping malls and bars to ask New Jersey fans of the New York Giants fans unbiased questions such as, "Do you think it is fair that the Giants play in the New Jersey Meadowlands and nevertheless are called the New York Giants, or do you think it's a lousy, stinking scam?"
Later, I was assigned by various media outlets to cover other outbreaks in the war. I first reported on the battle of Wall Street in the summer of 1989, shortly after Jersey City persuaded some Merrill Lynch employees to switch camps. Of late, Jersey City has been trying to lure the entire New York Stock Exchange across the river.
I covered some of the fight over Staten Island, the embattled borough that perennially threatens to secede to the west, and I managed to see a bit of the battle over the birthplace of baseball. New York says Cooperstown - and they got the museum - but most baseball scholars agree with New Jerseyans who say it was Hoboken's Elysian Fields.
That is nothing compared to the battle over the Statue of Liberty, which is closer to the shores of New Jersey than the tip of Battery Park. As a result, New Jersey has proposed turning Lady Liberty so that her face faces the Garden State. A New Jersey legislator once suggested the dispute be settled with a golf ball: Liberty Island would go to the state with a golfer who could drive a ball onto its shores over the water hazard that is New York Harbor.
What's notable about this week's Supreme Court ruling is that, for the first time, New Jersey won. Sure, New Jersey got the Giants, and the Jets and may one day get the Yankees. But mostly the Border War isn't so much about teams or jobs or territory. It's about words. And New York is a nuclear power when it comes to words.
When the New Jersey Devils won the National Hockey League championship in 1995, for instance, they held their parade in the Meadowlands, the Manhattan-sized swamp that is home to the sports and entertainment complex of the same name. New Yorkers burst into hysterics at the thought of the team parading around in circles in a parking lot in a swamp, as opposed to a ticker-tape parade up Broadway.
"I think that the Meadowlands are appropriate for New Jersey," Ed Koch, the former mayor, said at the time, "and the Wall Street canyons are appropriate for New York City. Each state has to deal with what it has. Some states are dealt lesser cards."
From my new home in Oregon, I can monitor the skirmishes with greater perspective. And frankly, I can see this war going well into the next millennium. Just look at how uncivil Giuliani has been over the success of Newark International Airport. Are United Nations peace-keeping forces watching?
Of course, when I try to discuss such burning issues with my friends on the West Coast, they don't see the point. The fact is, they are often surprised to learn there is any difference between New York and New Jersey at all. They think of both places as one big, noisy mess.