By the end of the week, Suffolk legislative leaders are due to appoint members of the state’s first non-partisan reapportionment commission of its kind. Enacted in 2007, the new procedure calls for legislative district lines to be drawn up by panel of four retired judges; two minority community leaders, and representatives of two voters’right/good government organizations. It lays out a process of possible approval or rejection by the Legislature as a whole and a special master to impose a solution if that becomes necessary.
The process is topical beyond Suffolk as a movement builds to introduce non-partisan reapportionment for the state’s 212 legislative seats. County Executive Steve Levy, who pushed for the original legislation, just wrapped up a teleconference with news media to mark the local changes, following still-evolving census results, that will first apply to the 2013 elections. He was joined by Blair Horner from NYPIRG and former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, who have been agitating for the statewide reapportionment change, and Legislative Majority Leader Jon Cooper (D-Huntington), who said he’ll be submitting names by the end of the week.
“We in Suffolk are the first in the state of New York to actually make this type of independent redistricting a reality,” Levy said. “The time is upon us now to have the appointments made for these panels.” He pointed to the flaws that can result in districts drawn that deviate by up to 10 percent from what would be an an equalized portion of voters – based on the usual gerrymandering concerns. The goal as he described it is to get the lines within 1 to 3 percent of the proper size and to respect town demarcations and natural boundaries. “The people should be choosing their representatives; the representatives shouldn’t be choosing their voters,” he said.
Said Koch: “In fact your legislation is probably better than the legislation we have in Albany, but I’m content that the Gianaris-Valesky legislation incorporates all the things needed to have a non partisan, impartial redistricting. That’s the one I hope will be carried.” But in Albany, Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has not signed on to the proposal. Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo has vowed to veto partisan-drawn district lines for the state’s 2012 legislative races, so the issue there is ripening.
Horner added that one factor will be the pressure Cuomo brings to bear on lawmakers “to enact a reform agenda,” and that it’s becoming clear this can happen.
Cooper, apparently on some common ground on this matter with Levy, with whom he’s clashed of late on issues, said he assumes that the legislature’s Republican minority leadership will also be putting forward its appointees this week. Lines formally have to be submitted 45 days after certification of new numbers, believed to be some time in February.