By Howard Koplowitz
Republicans in the state Senate are reportedly thinking of adding an extra seat in the upper chamber when the redrawing of district lines are conducted next year.
Senate GOP spokesman Mark Hansen dismissed the reports, calling them “overblown and premature speculation.”
Sens. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said they had “heard rumors” that Republicans were in fact looking to add an extra seat.
The Senate currently has 62 seats. The lieutenant governor used to be the deciding vote in the case of ties, but Republicans stripped power from the office and the lieutenant governor only casts a vote on procedural matters on which the Senate is deadlocked.
Senate Republicans reportedly are eyeing a 63rd seat, most likely in a Republican stronghold upstate, to prevent political fights over leadership in the body in the case of an evenly divided Senate and following the coup that saw the GOP take over control of the Senate in 2009.
“Nothing surprises me,” Gianaris said. “This is why we need an independent redistricting process because the Republicans will stop at nothing to maintain their majority … even if it means violating the constitution to change the number of senators the state has.”
Both Stavisky and Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said Senate Republicans should abandon their plan, in part arguing that a 63rd seat would further drain state resources at a time of economic hardship.
“The purpose of redistricting is not to find employment for senators,” Stavisky said. “To me, this is a form of gerrymandering. I think it’s wrong when the Democrats do it and it’s wrong when the Republicans do it.”
Avella called the plan for a 63rd seat “a gimmick so that [Republicans] can try and hold on to the leadership” and said the GOP was being hypocritical for partially citing the coup as rationale for the idea.
“They were the ones who initiated the coup,” Avella said before bursting into laughter. “It’s laughable. They created the nonsense. If they’re using that as an argument, shame on them.”
Stavisky said if Republicans are worried about tie votes in the Senate, a seat should be cut.
“They should go back to 61 and then do [redistricting] based upon an independent redistricting commission,” she said. “Returning the number to 61 would do the same thing.”
Sen. Jospeh Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said he only heard of the GOP’s plan in the media.
“Personally, I think it’s the wrong direction to go in,” he said. “To increase government size by an extra seat is unconscionable and unacceptable.”
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.