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Editorial: Gerrymandered districts live on in New York State

"The Steam Shovel": That's what some in political

"The Steam Shovel": That's what some in political circles are calling the redrawn 20th State Senate District in Brooklyn, a example of the odd shapes that electoral districts can take. Credit: New York State Legislature

The statewide redistricting maps for New York's Senate and Assembly seats were released Thursday, and evaluating these complicated political subdivisions will take time. It is clear, though, that they were created via the same partisan system that has given us gerrymandering so many times before, by leaders who pledged they'd never do that to voters again.

And, at first glance, they've done it to voters again.

The new maps create some cynically political boundaries apparently intended to shore up the support of incumbents in some cases, and political parties in others. On Long Island the Senate lines are virtually unchanged, failing to reflect or represent the huge growth in minority populations in places like Babylon, Islip and Hempstead.

In Queens, several districts, including some new ones to give more voting power to Asian and Orthodox Jewish communities, appear to have been drawn by an abstract artist. And upstate, an onerous practice lives on: carving up heavily Democratic communities in cities like Rochester to dilute their voting power by joining them to white, reliably Republican suburbs.

The trickery comes from both parties, and both chambers. Insiders say the new 63rd Senate seat, created upstate, is intended specifically to elect a wealthy Republican real estate developer who is willing to run. Assembly Democrats, meanwhile, were right to give Long Island back its 22nd Assembly seat, but taking it from upstate rather than New York City is a clear play to turn a Republican seat Democratic.

These maps, drawn with results of the 2010 Census, come after many state politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), pledged to support a nonpartisan committee to create them. Skelos backpedaled once the 2010 election returned control of the Senate to his party. With a firm majority in his chamber, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has been less visible in the crossfire of this redistricting battle, but his maps are just as strategic in favoring his members. Silver, like Skelos, says removing the task of drawing maps from legislative leaders can only be done through a constitutional amendment, and not for another decade. So, once again, the maps were created by the people who stand to benefit from them.

Good government advocacy groups such as Common Cause have delivered the preliminary judgment that these districts are a gerrymandered disaster. But Common Cause has also proven that sane boundaries are possible by creating its own maps. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants an independent commission to draw the lines and says he will veto the maps unveiled Thursday. But how will the legislature respond? If leaders don't improve the maps, will Cuomo veto them again and send the matter into federal court?

To meet election deadlines, districts likely must be set in stone by March, so endless foot-dragging isn't an option. Neither are unfair boundaries. Or deals. Allowing gerrymandering for 10 more years in return for a bet that there will be a constitutional amendment to guarantee fair lines in 2022, as some have suggested, is dishonest. New Yorkers deserve competitive elections and equal representation this year. If full evaluation shows that these maps disenfranchise any groups or communities, Cuomo should reject them.