Bill Samuels, head of the New Roosevelt Initiative, which advocates "nonpartisan" redistricting, is set to call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to appoint an advisory panel that could prod the existing Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) to avoid gerrymandering.
"By appointing his own commission, Governor Cuomo could allow ample time for a statewide public debate on an appropriate redistricting map," Samuels says.
"Such a map will provide a contrast to LATFOR’s map, which could be delivered as late as Spring 2012. Having an appropriate map already in the public domain will also speed up the process by providing guidance to the courts in the event the governor vetoes LATFOR’s map," says a statement from his organization. It continues:
“While I applaud Governor Cuomo’s successful campaign on the historic same sex marriage bill, he needs to apply the same type of creative governing and strategy to passing an independent and non-gerrymandered redistricting map. For fair redistricting we need an open debate among the governor, the legislature, good government groups, local communities and the public....
“By creating a nonpartisan, fair-minded committee to draw up district maps today, he would set the appropriate standard for the legislators as to what an acceptable redistricting map would look like in practice and help to educate the public as to what they should expect and demand from Albany. And by doing it in advance of LATFOR’s map, he can apply pressure on the task force and potentially avoid a drawn out process that either ends in a veto or a last minute incremental deal that only moves redistricting forward marginally, similar to what occurred on ethics during the recent legislative session.”
Samuels warned: "Without a governor’s committee on redistricting, Cuomo could inadvertently end up promoting a strategy of incumbency protection by waiting to simply veto maps drawn by the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), a threat he reiterated last week.
“By continuing to merely reiterate his threat to veto any gerrymandered map that LATFOR produces, the Governor is inadvertently playing into a cynical incumbency protection strategy,” explained Samuels. “Without clear knowledge of which districts they would run in or whom they would run against, potential challengers across the state will be forced to wait to start their campaigns, leaving them at a distinct disadvantage in their attempts to unseat Albany’s entrenched incumbents..."
UPDATE: We've also now heard from the influential Henry Stern, of New York Civic, who called to voice support for Samuels' position. Stern says from his perspective that if government doesn't want to do the right, non-partisan thing, then good-government groups should indeed offer an alternative plan. Stern also noted that despite subjectivity in line-drawing, there can be a way of measuring the gerrymander -- by the length of the line. As I understood Stern's point: If a district's border travels far from a cohesive community to take in an individual house or houses, say, that can be detected and suspected.