The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

Redistricting could create merger between two congressional districts

By DON HEPPNER
PHOTO COURTESY COMMON CAUSE NEW YORK

Proposed Congressional District 17, one of the two realignments suggested by Common Cause.

 

AND R.J. MARX

Could redistricting mean that the 19th Congressional District would be absorbed by the 18th, in lower Westchester, creating a potential battle between Republican freshman Congresswoman Nan Hayworth and Democrat Nita Lowey in Westchester County? The answer is not clear yet, as maps to determine the new district have not been presented by the Legislature.

New York lost two congressional seats from federal reapportionment after the 2010 census, taking it from 29 to 27 seats. According to a report in The Washington Post, New York is home of one of the top 10 worst redistricting battles in the nation, ranking sixth on the list. Illinois was ranked first.

“This is a really big mess,” said Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director of the League of Women Voters of New York State this week.

New York’s 27 new districts will average 719,298 residents, while the 29 districts averaged 655,344 residents. Co-chairman of the state’s Legislative Action Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment John J. McEneny said that the second round of hearings would begin in Albany in late January, and “grind into late-February.”

“Those of you who are looking for maps, our goal is still to start public hearings before the end of the month,” said Mr. McEneny at a meeting of the group Tuesday.

Like Ms. Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters, leaders of nonprofit groups monitoring government in New York State are not so sure about that. “There’s no exact deadline for when the maps must be completed, and we don’t even know if New York’s primary will be in June or August,” according to Alexis Grenell, spokesperson for Common Cause. “Redistricting is the issue of 2012, and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.”


State responds to federal demand

As a result of the 2010 census, New York lost two congressional seats for a new total of 27 seats. The New York State Legislature is responsible for redistricting in the state. All redistricting plans — required by the federal government — must be in place before the beginning of the 2012 elections in New York.

The state’s Legislative Action Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, while not a decision-making body, aids the Legislature by providing technical plans for meeting the requirements of legislative timetables for the reapportionment of Senate, Assembly and congressional districts. It also conducts research projects relating to the collection and use of census data and other statistical information. 

LATFOR met on Tuesday this week with the agenda of having an “imprimatur” on the prisoner adjustment issue, according to co-chairman Michael F. Nozzolio. Formerly counted for the census in the place of incarceration, state prisoners are now counted in their “home” communities. This will determine final census data prior to redistricting.

The task force consists of six members, including four legislators and two non-legislators. The temporary president of the Senate appoints one legislator, Mr. Nozzolio, and one non-legislator, Welquis R. Lopez. The speaker of the Assembly also appoints one legislator, co-chairman Assemblyman John J. McEneny and one non-legislator, Roman Hedges. The minority leaders of the Assembly and the Senate each appoint one legislator: Assemblyman Robert Oaks and Senator Martin Malave Dilan.


Common Cause offers ‘nonpolitical’ maps

Suggested mapping released last week by Common Cause, a good-government group, offered a glimpse of how New York’s congressional and state Legislature districts could look in 2013 if drawn strictly by nonpolitical principles.

The new map offers contrast with the current districts, which critics say have been stretched and contorted to protect incumbents and majority-party power. “Couple gerrymandering and lax campaign finance laws, we have the perfect situation for the largest incumbency-return rate in the nation,” Ms. Bartoletti said.

She said that the return rate for state legislators was 100 percent in 2000, and the last election returned 96 percent of the incumbents to office.

Ms. Bartoletti applauded Gov. Andrew Cuomo for taking a stance on the issue of redistricting, saying that Mr. Cuomo promised to veto any redistricting plans if drawn with partisan interest, but she said that the process is currently being conducted behind closed doors. “Who knows what we will get,” she said.

In the proposed mapping from Common Cause, New York’s Orange County, now split by two congressional districts that cover parts of Westchester and go as far as Ithaca, would largely be contained in a single district that includes territory across the Hudson River. The proposed district’s current representatives, Democrat Maurice Hinchey, Congressional District 22, and Republican Nan Hayworth would live outside of the redrawn district’s borders, according to Ms. Grenell.

“Now the fun begins,” said Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice. “We don’t want the process of redistricting held captive to politicians.”


Is reform possible?

Most New York State lawmakers signed written pledges promising reform, and they promised the process would not be political, but that is not the case.

Common Cause in New York released its first reform redistricting maps three weeks ago, and already thousands of New Yorkers have viewed them, according to Ms. Grenell.

Ms. Gaskins said that the process is far from ideal and greater transparency is needed so that the public can understand how and why the maps for redistricting are produced the way they are.

“Residents should understand why lines were drawn the way the were and that those explanations answering why should be responsive to citizen testimony, and political games must not played,” she said. “Whether or not we are going to see outcome to that degree remains to be seen.”

Ms. Gaskins said that the Brennan Center for Justice is worried that those involved in the redistricting process might not follow the law. “We want the process of redistricting to be as transparent as possible,” she said. “That there is continued opportunity for citizen participation and that those participations are meaningful.”

Ms. Bartoletti said that time is short and New York could have three different elections if a final redistricting map is not drawn soon. Those elections would be paid for by county funds and could include a presidential primary already set for February, a federal primary for senatorial and congressional candidates, and a New York State legislative election.

There is some urgency involved, since candidates for Congress need to know what the district lines are so that they can get petitions signed.

The Legislative Action Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment is the state group responsible for drawing the maps that will determine how New Yorkers vote. If LATFOR or the Legislature cannot get the lines drawn, the courts, according to Ms. Gaskins, would determine the new districts.

“We were in federal Judge Gary Sharp’s courtroom when he chastised the Legislature for not having the lines drawn,” Ms. Bartoletti said. “The judge could rule soon for an August primary or he may rule for a June primary. Clearly, if the primary gets moved up, that puts more pressure on the Legislature to get the lines done.”

She said that the governor could appoint a panel to look at the LATFOR lines and recommend changes that would be less political, if needed. The lines the Women’s League of Voters wants would reflect communities of interest, be compact and contiguous and done with no regard to where legislators live or what the legislators’ voting patterns have been. “We don’t want the legislators picking their own voters,” Ms. Bartoletti said. “As it is now, you are more likely to die or be indicted than you are to be unelected in New York State.”

LATFOR co-chairman Mr. Nozzolio said at Tuesday’s meeting in Albany that seven days’ notice would be given before the maps are presented. “Things are moving swiftly. We hope to have those maps out seven days before the first hearing.”

“We haven’t arrived at the exact schedule yet, because we don’t want people planning for something that might be changed,” added co-chairman Mr. McAneny. “But things are moving swiftly.”



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January 13, 2012