New State Redistricting Plan Panned
Following weeks of criticism over its original proposal, the legislative task force charged with drawing new state legislative district lines across New York released its revised redistricting plan late on Sunday, Mar. 11-but few seem to be satisfied with the changes.
The original proposal released by the Legislative Task Force for Redistricting and Reapportionment (LATFOR) in January was heavily panned by good government groups, civic associations and Gov. Andrew Cuomo as being a blatant instrument of political gamesmanship designed to keep incumbents in power and strengthen the majority parties’ respective hold on the Assembly and State Senate.
At first, LATFOR’s revised plan was released on Sunday night in the form of a 253-page bill which described the physical boundaries for each Assembly and State Senate dis- trict. By Tuesday morning, Mar. 13, the task force had published the updated proposed maps of each state legislative district on its website.
The legislation is coupled with a proposed constitutional amendment to allow for the creation of an independent redistricting panel following the 2020 Census and all other censuses to follow.
The Assembly and State Senate were scheduled to vote on the bill during their sessions yesterday, Wednesday, Mar. 14. As the Times Newsweekly went to press on Wednesday at noon, the outcome was not yet known; a report on the votes-as well as the governor’s decision on the plan-will be featured in next week’s issue.
Under the provisions of the new redistricting bill, some of the proposed districts were altered geographically in order to look a little less gerrymandered. In some cases, State Senate districts that were originally drawn to pit two incumbent Democrats against each other were altered to avoid several forced primaries. However, the Senate plan calls for the disputed creation of a 63rd State Senate seat located in upstate New York.
Democrats charged that the extra seat would strengthen the current Republican majority and eliminate potential legislative ties that would otherwise be broken by the lieutenant governor, Democrat Robert Duffy. Republicans argued that the extra Senate seat is necessary under apportionment provisions in the state constitution.
Governor Cuomo, who originally said he would veto any redistricting plan that isn’t created by an independent panel, is reportedly in talks with legislative leaders about a deal to approve the revised LATFOR plan in exchange for having the constitutional amendment move forward toward ratification.
Amendments to the state constitution are ratified if a proposal is approved by the Assembly and State Senate in two consecutive sessions, then signed by the governor and finally approved by voters in a statewide ballot referendum.
Addabbo gives thumbs down
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo told the Times Newsweekly in an interview on Tuesday afternoon, Mar. 13, that he would vote against the redistricting plan, as would many of his colleagues in the Democratic State Senate Conference, “not because of the way they (the districts) were drawn, but the process in which it was done.”
Nevertheless, he indicated that it was very likely the plan would pass the Assembly (which is controlled by the Democrats, under the direction of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver) and State Senate (under Republican control and the direction of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos).
“The legislative leaders had the opportunity to do their job this year, and they failed to do so,” Addabbo told this paper. “Now we have these lines which were basically drawn up by the legislative leaders, and it is wrong.”
Addabbo also criticized the proposed constitutional amendment, which he charged would not be truly independent since its members would be chosen by the legislative leaders. Even so, he stated, the amendment also includes a provision that would grant the state legislature the authority to reject any proposal offered by the independent panel.
As for the reports about a potential compromise between the governor, Silver and Skelos on redistricting and the independent panel amendment, Addabbo said that any compromise would be “kicking the can down the road.”
“We should be doing that this year, not 10 years from now,” he added. “There is no room for compromise here. We stand by the governor, hoping that he follows through with his earlier statements” that he would veto redistricting plans created by state lawmakers.
Should the governor veto the plans, the realignment of state legislative districts would ultimately fall into the hands of the courts. Federal courts have already launched the process of creating 27 Congressional districts for New York State after LATFOR and legislative leaders failed to produce a redistricting plan.
“When the court does it, it silences the people’s voice,” Addabbo observed. “I really would not have wanted the courts to do it, but now I think it would be the more equitable thing to do instead of gerrymandering.”
‘The ghouls won’
Many government reform groups, also seemed unimpressed with LATFOR’s revised plans and were troubled by talks of a potential compromise that could allow the proposal to become law.
“These people are afraid they can’t make a living if-God forbid, from their point of view-the people threw them out, so they will do anything to stay in office,” former Mayor Ed Koch was quoted as stating in a New York Times article on Monday, Mar. 12. Koch is the leader of New York Uprising, a reform group that convinced over 100 lawmakers to sign a pledge prior to the 2010 state elections to create an independent redistricting panel.
Koch called the state legislature “the most devious” in the country in the New York Times article, adding “[w]e tried our best, and the ghouls won.”
Other advocacy groups such as the League of Women Voters and Citizens Union offered their support of the revised redistricting plan with the condition that the legislature fulfill its promise to pass the independent redistricting constitutional amendment.
New York Civic, however, was displeased with the proposed amendment itself, calling it in an e-mail sent to the Times Newsweekly “a deeply disturbing step back.”
“The so-called ‘independent commission’- which would be appointed entirely by the self-serving leaders of the Assembly and Senate-is nothing more than a cynical ploy by the legislature to keep its total control over the redistricting process,” New York Civic’s e-mail stated. “Last year, over 100 members of the legislature-a majority of both houses-promised to Mayor Koch that they would finally end the shameful practice of gerrymandering in our state. They lied. Now, the legislators in Albany are asking us to accept the same old gerrymandered lines for the next decade, in exchange for the passage of a deeply flawed constitutional amendment that won’t even take effect until 2022.”