New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during a news conference...

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during a news conference in the Red Room at the Capitol in Albany (Feb. 29, 2012) Credit: AP

In the wee hours of the legislative session, State Senate Minority Leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) and partisan colleagues set up camp atop what they evidently viewed as a choice parcel of moral high ground. Before midnight on Wednesday, as reported, they stalked out of the ornate Capitol chamber where the upper house was to vote on a state redistricting map.

"They talk about [how] they have changed Albany," Sampson said into the microphones. "They haven't changed Albany. It's back to the way Albany used to be -- dysfunction."

Their protest purportedly involved the GOP majority's allegedly cutting off debate long before the four hours Democrats had been told would be allowed. But the walkout really gave Sampson, Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx) and Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), among others, a vantage point from which to dramatize their best arguments on the wider redistricting issue.

They recalled -- and it is instructive to remember -- that the Republican majority headed by Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) signed pledges during the last election to have an independent panel perform the once-a-decade redistricting. One year ago, Skelos "weaseled out," in the words of former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, by saying the system could only be changed by a constitutional amendment -- too late for 2012.

Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) then followed past practice and had a legislative task force draw lines advantageous to their own conferences. And finally, despite his own vow to veto any gerrymandered redistricting plan, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo did not do so with this one. Instead, he emphasized Thursday that he got lawmakers to begin enacting, by statute, "real, meaningful reform" -- but starting in 2022.

"We're going to change the constitution," Cuomo added, which requires approval from two consecutive legislatures and a statewide referendum.

The Senate debate, once cut off, "was showing how gerrymandered the state is" in conflict with fair voting rights, Sen. Neil Breslin (D-Delmar) told those reporters still on hand at the Capitol to record the event. References were even made to civil rights battles of the 1960s.

But it is also worth remembering that in our politics, the moral high ground is valued at much less per square foot than the political high ground, no matter which party holds which real estate for the moment.

When Sampson's side grasped the majority just a couple of years ago, it was not known to be expending any of its capital, political or otherwise, to make redistricting evenhanded. As majority leader in 2009, Sen. Malcolm A. Smith (D-Jamaica) even talked once of redistricting Republicans "into oblivion" -- not quite the clarion call of nonpartisan reform.

Relatively little attention has been paid to the Assembly map. One big reason is that Silver occupies political ground so high that he could lose a staggering 20 seats at the polls in November and the Democrats would still outnumber Republicans. Skelos, by contrast, has an uncomfortable 32 of 62 seats, with a slight cushion of four Independent Democratic Conference members who are alienated from the Sampson conference. The vote in the Senate for the new legislative map was 36-0.

Congressional lines have already been set by a federal judge.

In State Supreme Court Thursday, Senate Democrats challenged the constitutionality of the GOP's creation of a 63rd Senate seat in the new map. They also said they will seek federal redress on lines' "cracking and packing of minority communities."

For the legislature, this passive-aggressive, year-plus-long journey to reapportionment seems finally near an end. The results, at this point, amount pretty much to business as usual.