The cliché: Until today, Staten Island, devastated by Sandy, remained in the shadows of news coverage. Now, as the week comes to a close residents are finally getting the media's attention as residents speak out against the lack of help they are getting despite the destruction of their neighborhoods and high death toll. A classic nickname, "the forgotten borough," is now being used heavily. CBS News reports: "Some residents have been calling the area 'the forgotten borough.'" The International Business Times says: "Staten Island residents say their island is the 'forgotten borough' of New York City. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, they say that reputation is sticking." A story on the Today show website is deemed: "Aid on the way for 'forgotten borough.'" Our own Dashiell Bennett also used the term: "Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will visit Staten Island today, but that seems unlikely to change the perception that New York's forgotten borough is being forgotten once again." RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, a group that originated in the borough, wrote on Twitter
The news said that Staten Island is the "Forgotten Borough" how can you forget over a half of million families. Shaolin Wutang Worldwide...— RZA! (@RZA) November 2, 2012
Where it's from: The term "forgotten borough" did not always have such tragic associations. Barry Popik wrote in an entry from June 2005 on his site "The Big Apple," which is described as "an etymological dictionary": "The term 'forgotten borough' cannot be earlier than 1898 (when the city unified as five boroughs). However, the term seems to be an early and persistent one." Popik (and, for what it's worth, Wikipedia) link the phrase to a July 15, 1928 article in the New York Times. The President of the Harmon National Real Estate Corporation, W. Burke Harmon, called Staten Island "this forgotten borough that has suddenly stepped into the limelight." The next example Popik provides is an October 1950 article in which the Republican candidate for Mayor, Edward Corsi, uses the term at a borough-wide rally. The then-current Tammany government was ignoring Staten Island, he said, in a speech that sounds strikingly similar to some of the dialogue today: "No Tammany mayor has or ever will be sufficiently interested to bother about smog, to negotiate with the Jersey officials and get you the relief from it that you must have." In more recent years "forgotten borough" status has been brought up along with talks of Staten Island's secession—an movement that was popular in the 1990s, but that made headlines as recently as 2008. Maurice Carroll wrote in the Times in 1983: "The notion that the 'forgotten borough' of Staten Island could become a former one is so melodramatic that many New York City officials find it hard to take seriously." All this said, Staten Island is not alone in being "forgotten," just last month in a report on an exhibit about the borough currently on display the Museum of the City of New York, Sam Roberts wrote in City Room that it sometimes shares its "dubious distinction" with Queens.
Why it's catching on: As harrowing news reports come out of the borough, like this one from Rock Center with Brian Williams, the nickname that is sometimes used lovingly (as this Urban Dictionary entry would suggest) now seems sadly prescient.
Why else? What was traditional is now just true.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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