The congressional district lines proposed by a federal judge earlier this week could well be law for the next 10 years, based on the views of the only legislative leaders who could change them.
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said he was pleased with the proposal by U.S. Magistrate Roanne Mann in Brooklyn, saying Republicans could pick up four congressional seats under the new district lines. Her action, completed a week before it was scheduled, was at first seen mostly as a way to spur legislative leaders to strike a deal and avoid a court resolution, but both sides ended up liking the judge’s idea. The Assembly majority reported it had no comment on the judge’s proposal, which the court notes can be viewed as waiver of any objections.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had no reaction to Skelos’ comments.
The legislative majority leaders could still choose to strike their own deal by March 15. But it would appear that would only involve slight shifts of election district lines.
Such tinkering, however, would serve the purpose of avoiding giving the courts the final say in what is a legislative power under the state constitution. But even though Skelos and Silver closely guard legislative powers, no high-pressure talks are under way to change the judge’s proposal.
“I think if we can straighten out a few situations, I think we would be willing to do it, but I don’t think (we’ll) be opening up the entire plan throughout the state,” Skelos said. He said the judge’s proposal could be the final product.
“We are listening to member concerns to determine if they can be addressed either in court or through legislation,” said Michael Whyland, spokesman for Silver.
The judge proposes to eliminate Republican Rep. Bob Turner’s 9th District in Queens and Brooklyn. Turner won the seat in a special election in September to replace Anthony Weiner, a one-time rising Democratic star who resigned after admitting he sent lewd text messages and photos of himself to women.
Turner’s district would be absorbed by Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Queens Democrat, under the proposal.
Eliminating those districts would take care of the requirement to eliminate two of New York’s 27 congressional seats because of population changes in the last census.
Skelos said the judge’s proposal provides some districts with plenty of Republican voters to give GOP candidates a strong shot at the Democratic areas now represented by Reps. Bill Owens in northern New York, Louise Slaughter and Kathy Hochul in western New York, and Timothy Bishop on Long Island.
The redrawing of state legislative district lines is less clear, and goes directly to the power of the Assembly and Senate majorities. Good-government groups have long condemned what they say is the way redistricting is twisted in New York to protect majority party power and its incumbents, rather than reflecting updated census data to keep similar communities in the same districts.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed to veto the state legislative lines first proposed last month, which have since been revised. Cuomo said the original proposal was wholly unacceptable and made it clear substantial improvements were needed for him to sign them into law.
Negotiations are under way to avoid a veto and a court’s involvement. But the chances of that are less clear than in the case of congressional lines.
The Senate lines are the biggest issue. The Republican majority just find a way to avoid Cuomo’s veto of what he calls “hyper-political” lines while still protecting the GOP’s majority in the state where Democrats have a nearly 2:1 enrollment advantage.
On Wednesday, Skelos said his conference has made minor “cosmetic” changes, which he’s unsure will be enough to avoid the Democratic governor’s veto.
Silver had no comment.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.