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NY Redistricting Faces Showdown; All Sides Dig In


The New York State Capitol building in Albany

This is a pivotal week in New York for the redistricting process that will play a critical role in how the state is governed and how its politics operate for the next decade.


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And it appears the process will get longer and Senate and Assembly majorities won’t meet their own timetable of voting on new state legislative and congressional district lines on March 1. A vote by March 1 would require redistricting bills to be submitted by midnight Monday.

Disagreements on Friday made it more likely the vote will be delayed by a few days, according to two state officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

Also this week, a federal magistrate is convening lawyers for the Senate’s Republican majority and the Assembly’s Democratic majority in an effort to hasten the process. Redistricting is colliding with a federal court order to move primary elections from September up to as early as June.

After a series of public hearings, the redistricting bill is expected to have different legislative lines than proposed earlier this year. Most attention is on the sharply partisan Senate, which is divided by just one vote, rather than the Assembly where Democrats have a comfortable 95-51 majority.

On the Congressional front, New York will lose two seats, based on slower population growth than other states. One upstate Republican seat and one downstate Democratic seat are expected to be eliminated.

The process is intended to make sure communities of similar racial and ethnic makeup get a clear voice in the Legislature and Congress, but good-government groups said the proposed district lines drawn by the Legislature’s majorities and released this year are again tools by the majorities to protect and expand power.

“They send me these lines, I am going to veto these lines,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed last week. He referred to the election district lines proposed before a second round of public hearings with often critical input form citizens groups. “These lines are not fair. They are hyper-political.”

Cuomo, a Democrat, won’t say what needs to change for him to support the new districts, which are important for his close allies in the Senate’s Republican majority to keep their 32-30 seat edge in the heavily Democratic state. He wouldn’t even say how he felt about the Republicans’ proposal for a 63rd seat, which could help them maintain control.

A Cuomo veto would send the issue to the courts.

But his statement on Feb. 1 that the lines were “wholly unacceptable” appears to leave him little room to accept just modest revision.

Republicans insist the additional seat is forced by the Census data and the federal voting rights acts that they must follow. They say similar factors in redistricting have pitted a few Democratic senators against each other, and created the curious situation in which an aggressive Democratic senator found himself living a block and a half outside what has been his district.

“I was surprised they went this petty,” said Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, the head of the Senate Democrats’ campaign committee and a key fundraiser. “They are pulling every trick in the book just to give themselves a fighting chance.”

Gianaris welcomes the federal magistrate’s meeting on Monday that could lead to a judge designating a “federal master” to make sure the election district lines are drawn more fairly.

Republicans defend their proposed district lines, which include the chamber’s first district that would be dominated by Asian-American voters. They note the proposed additional seat is forced by population growth from Saratoga County through Albany County’s southern suburbs, which will still have more Democratic voters. Further, they said Gianaris was unintentionally cut out of his own district because of the shifting populations and so that Asian-Americans could have their best shot at electing an Asian-American senator.

It was supposed to be different this year. In the 2010 legislative elections, every Republican senator signed a pledge to enact an independent commission to redraw districts and hammered Democrats for being slow to sign on. Republicans abandoned the pledge shortly after they regained the majority, but support a constitutional amendment to create independent redistricting in 2022.

“New Yorkers have been betrayed by every Assembly member and Senator who promised to establish an independent redistricting commission and didn’t,” said Susan Lerner of Common Cause-NY. “The governor can restore their faith by keeping his promise.”

In 2008, Democratic senators won the majority in part by assailing Republicans as unwilling to commit to impartial redistricting. Once in power, Democrats failed to get it done. Then-Democratic leader Sen. Malcolm Smith even once promised to redistrict Republicans “into oblivion.”

 

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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