The New York State Senate and Assembly made a serious error by failing to compromise on new congressional districts, and kicking the responsibility for drawing those lines to a court-appointed federal magistrate. Judge Roanne Mann showed, when she took over the process, that such lines can be drawn quickly, fairly and in a reasonably nonpartisan manner. They just can't be drawn quickly, fairly and in a reasonably nonpartisan manner by sitting lawmakers.
Mann's congressional map will undergo what is likely its last public hearing in front of a three-member federal panel today, in order to be in place in time for candidates to start gathering petition signatures Tuesday. It is not perfect, or perfectly apolitical, but it is very good.
That's in contrast to the State Senate electoral maps drawn by the Republican majority, which are gerrymandered incumbency-protection plans, and the newest version of the Assembly maps drawn by the Democratic majority, only slightly less awful, and only because that majority is safe. Legislators worked desperately to pass their own maps yesterday so they could report back to the federal court this morning that the boundaries for state seats were a done deal.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is locked in a complex political dance involving pension reform, DNA testing of criminals, and a constitutional amendment to expand gambling. Whatever tradeoffs were made on these issues happened without transparency or public debate. Now, Cuomo has been forced to claim the federal magistrate's highly praised congressional district plan is only mediocre, and presents no real improvement over two previous plans, one submitted by Senate Republicans and the other drawn by Assembly Democrats. At the same time, Cuomo is saying state legislators have made "progress" on improving their own district maps, when the Senate lines in particular disenfranchise minority voters in Wyandanch, Babylon and Islip in Suffolk County, in Roosevelt, Uniondale and Hempstead in Nassau County, and in New York City and Rochester.
For Cuomo, admitting Mann drew fair districts means admitting courts could draw good lines for Senate and Assembly seats, and if he concedes that point, he'll be honor-bound to veto the far-worse boundaries these bodies concocted for themselves. To be fair to the governor, it's possible the courts would not improve the legislators' plan for Senate and Assembly districts, but he should veto these maps regardless, and his attempts to evade a longtime pledge to reject any plan that's not independent, and is partisan, are distressing.
The constitutional amendment proposed to fix the process in 2022 would leave redistricting vulnerable to partisanship. It hasn't been subjected to public debate and isn't guaranteed to pass. The statute meant to kick in if the amendment fails would be no better.
Cuomo's veto of Senate and Assembly districts might not work, but it would certainly work better than approving gerrymandered maps. A first veto may result in better ones. If not, a second veto, which would send the maps to the federal judge, could. And neither veto would permit a broken pledge by a governor who's willingness to stand up to Albany ways is the bedrock of his popularity.