No easy map to new political districts

The current and proposed district maps.

The current and proposed district maps. (Credit: Handout)

Dan Janison

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

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10

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The route to New York's new political maps has yet to be mapped.

Fresh crafting of districts comes every 10 years for legislative bodies of all kinds -- nationwide, statewide and countywide.

This time out, with a year to go before it all takes hold, unique twists arise.

An aerial snapshot:

Right now, a thick legal fog hovers over Nassau. Republicans, who control the legislative majority and county executive's office, are pushing to enact their early rendering of the county legislature's districts. Democrats are resisting the GOP map; a court fight rages.

So with nominating petitions due between July 11 and 14, some candidates for the 19 legislative seats face the weird task of gathering valid signatures both within the old lines and the new -- pending a final outcome on which map will stand.

An exact timetable for that resolution? Mark it "terra incognita."

Next up: an unusual round of statewide redistricting. A still-unshaped process in Albany will determine lines for the State Senate, the State Assembly and Congress members from New York.

The state is losing two congressional seats under federal reapportionment. Suddenly, the Anthony Weiner resignation leaves the current 9th District, covering parts of Queens and Brooklyn, without an incumbent -- and by political logic, without a force for its preservation.

Several veteran Democratic operatives believe the new lines may alter the district of Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights), perhaps from a Queens-Nassau mix to Queens-only. The 4th District of Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) could pick up a number of Ackerman's Nassau constituents, while Rep. Peter King's 3rd District could add Republicans from McCarthy's district.

That's just one potential scenario. Already, the Long Island Association is urging against any dilution of Nassau-Suffolk clout in Congress.

Speculation abounds on how the lines might be shaped. Debate has arisen about a need to curb gerrymandering and make state and congressional lines "nonpartisan."

Campaigning for governor last year, Andrew M. Cuomo offered a "New New York Agenda" that said: "Talk of reform on this critical issue is not enough . . . Cuomo will veto any redistricting plan in 2012 that reflects partisan gerrymandering and ensure that the state has set itself on a path to reforming the process . . ."

As governor, Cuomo introduced a bill this year for a nonpartisan commission. It fell off the bargaining table early on. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) ditched his earlier-pledged support for a "nonpartisan" 2012 bill and instead took the stance that such a system needs a constitutional amendment, which for legal reasons couldn't take effect until 2022.

Skelos would surely like to keep his hard-won majority. Will he and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) write the lines under the current legislative process, knowing that will prod a Cuomo veto, with a negotiated settlement to follow? Or will a court impose its own map? Or, before that happens, will legislators reach a deal on how to proceed?

"There's plenty of time to see how things go," said one Capitol Republican.

Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York, which pushes for nonpartisan redistricting, said: "There are various permutations of what could happen. It's far from hopeless yet."