New redistricting plans have commonalities

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10 years, much of which was spent as a ...

For Long Island, and for much of New York, the congressional lines released by a federally appointed special master closely resemble those drawn in a previous reform plan issued by the nonprofit, good-government group Common Cause.

That figures, since Roanne Mann, the federal magistrate, openly consulted the Common Cause plan in swiftly crafting her map.

There are differences. In the Mann plan, for example, the district now represented by Rep. Greg Meeks in southeast Queens breaks across the border to include part of Nassau.

But overall, the court's map, like Common Cause's, creates nicely compacted Long Island districts. And both plans also seem to disregard current incumbents' residences -- which is fine, too, because the location of an elected official's house need not be the public's problem.

Once you turn your gaze west into the five boroughs, however, even this draft becomes visually weirder.

Shortly after its release Tuesday, Tom Shanahan -- a lobbyist and active Republican who's also a critic of the "independent" redistricting concept -- even pointed to the court-proposed 7th Congressional District in New York City as the artistic descendant of the original "gerrymander."

Two hundred years ago, a Federalist newspaper, the Boston Gazette, mocked the Massachusetts Legislature's manipulation of district lines to give Jeffersonian Republicans an advantage. Gov. Elbridge Gerry signed the law. A district that looked like a salamander was thus spoofed as a "Gerrymander," portrayed in a cartoon with monstrous head and tail.

New York's newly proposed 7th Congressional District does some amphibian-like slithering of its own from Brooklyn's Sunset Park all the way into Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg, Bushwick, Cypress Hills and Woodhaven in Queens -- with a jump across the East River into Manhattan's Chinatown and Lower East Side. Yes, it does generally resemble the shape famously lampooned in 1812.

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"The bottom line is simple," argued Shanahan, a Columbia County resident. "If the result is no different in what a court-appointed master does, from what a hardened political operative does . . . it puts the lie to the necessity for independent redistricting."

True, reform advocates for years have made much fun of concocted borders with nicknames such as "Lincoln Riding on a Vacuum Cleaner."

But, 19th-century ghosts aside, the court plan won praise from independent-redistricting advocates.

Said the Citizens Union: "These districts were drawn quickly and fairly while respecting communities of interest and existing political subdivisions like counties, cities and towns." Common Cause added in a statement: "Judge Mann's proposal is a vast improvement over the self-serving interests of the Legislature, and reflects many of Common Cause's core principles in its design. If there was any doubt about the Court's effectiveness and ability to draw lines in the public interest, that question has been laid to rest."

Certainly, the Mann map gives a glimpse of what has been widely expected in the final product -- a dissolving of retiring Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey's upstate 22nd District and breakup of the 9th represented by Republican Bob Turner.

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But don't get emotionally attached to this Mann plan, or Mann-mander.

If key players in Albany agree to a map of their own in the coming days, it could pre-empt Magistrate Mann's speedy work of art.

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