The New York Senate's Republican majority proposed a legislative redistricting plan Thursday that contorted what are supposed to be compact election districts into some odd shapes to connect dwindling Republican pockets in the blue state.
Among the proposed districts are six now represented by Democrats in Queens which would be reduced to three, forcing potential two-way battles by incumbent Democrats in one district in the shape of a lobster.
Senate Republicans also propose an additional seat in the 62-seat Senate, a new 46th Senate District. It would snake along GOP towns from the old industrial city of Amsterdam in Montgomery County, through Albany's suburbs, to just outside Poughkeepsie, more than 100 miles away. It would replace the current 46th District that is simply Albany County, a Democratic stronghold. A new Senate seat costs about $1 million a year to pay for a legislator's salary, staff and other resources.
In the Assembly, the Democratic majority proposed a new 138th Assembly District in suburban Monroe County, near Rochester, that appears to veer off in search of Democrats into a swirl resembling a big question mark.
"How are they compact districts?" asked Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters. "Why should we be surprised? This was a partisan process, has been for decades, and it produced extraordinarily partisan lines where incumbents continue to have the upper hand ... they are designer districts done by partisans who want to select voters before voters get to select them." Redistricting is supposed to keep similar communities together to foster a representative who knows their concerns, while making sure to comply with voting rights laws. But for decades, majorities have redrawn rules that have contributed to long stretches of control by one party, decades-long careers, and a 95-percent re-election rate.
"Today, we see the culmination of their broken promise -- a partisan scheme designed to keep them in power," said Senate Democratic Minority Leader John Sampson of Brooklyn.
Republican senators said their proposal is fair and will hold up to the inevitable court challenge.
"Despite the reflexive criticism from the Senate Democrats, this plan consolidates communities of interest, strengthens every African-American district in New York City and creates a first-ever Asian American majority district in Queens," said Senate GOP majority spokesman Scott Reif. "In addition, the vast majority of these proposed districts contain three-fourths or more of their existing districts. This plan is fair and legal, and they know it." Although Senate Democrats were outraged Thursday, back in 2008-10 when they held the Senate majority they failed to pass independent redistricting despite their own campaign promise in 2008. Then-Democratic Senate leader Malcolm Smith of Queens had vowed to redistrict Republicans "into oblivion." Democrats won the first Senate majority in 50 years in 2008, thanks in part to a big Democratic turnout for Barack Obama. Democrats hoped to ride that tide again this year, but the GOP-drawn districts will make that difficult.
Senate Republicans now have a 32-30 majority in the state where Democrats have a nearly 2:1 enrollment advantage. The Assembly's Democratic majority received less criticism for its lines for its chamber, where Democrats have a far more comfortable 95-51 majority.
Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group said a statistical analysis shows the Senate's proposal is "clearly the most gerrymandered lines" in at least 30 years.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is closely allied with the Senate GOP, said Thursday he would veto any lines not drawn by an independent commission. Lawmakers had promised to create a nonpartisan to redraw the legislative map, but abandoned their pledge after the election.
Cuomo also notes a protracted fight could create chaos in a year in which a federal judge could move New York's primaries from September to as early as June to give military voters more time to submit absentee ballots.
Further, a U.S. Supreme Court decision last week involving redistricting in Texas may limit a governor's ability to change a legislature's proposal. That decision rules that redistricting is a legislative matter.
"I'm sure the courts will be involved in this process," Cuomo said in a news conference before the legislative lines were released. "I don't know where it will end." Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch's New York Uprising group secured pledges from lawmakers to enact an independent, non-partisan process during the 2010 elections "I am disappointed in this result and in the dishonorable lawmakers who openly pledged to do things differently this year, and then reneged when it wasn't to their political advantage," Koch said. "What a shame ... Today, victory lies with the enemies of reform." Now, Koch said, it's up to Cuomo who also promised to enact an independent redistricting panel as part of his 2010 campaign to clean up Albany, but was mostly silent publicly on the issue since getting into office.
"His decision now -- whether to honor his pledge and veto the gerrymandered map or whether to allow the Legislature to get away with a self-serving map -- is a key test of his leadership," Koch said.
The proposed districts would also make some history.
The Assembly would create three districts in Asian-American neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn. The Senate would also reconfigure election lines in Queens to form an Asian-majority district.
In the Assembly, Republican leader Brian Kolb of Canandaigua said two of his members would be pitted against each other in a Central New York district and an incumbent Republican and incumbent Democrat would be forced to seek the same Buffalo district. But he said much could change depending on whether the Democrat majority is willing to negotiate, if there are court decisions, and if Cuomo intervenes.
"Until we have the maps on our desk to vote, nothing is final," Kolb said in an interview.
online, see www.latfor.state.ny.us