PHOTO: Karen DeWitt / NY Public Radio
It’s coming down to the wire on redistricting in New York. A federal court has already usurped a gridlocked state legislature and drawn new congressional lines, and is now on track to redraw state legislative lines, too, if the Assembly and Senate do not agree on a bill by March 15th.
Talks between the Senate and Assembly on a comprehensive redistricting package bogged down over arguments about how to reconfigure congressional maps. New York will lose two seats and go from 29 to 27 representatives based on the 2010 census data.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he thinks the court drawn maps may actually help bring a resolution on the lines, saying they could become a “template” for a deal.
State Legislators say they are revising the lines for new Senate and Assembly districts, after Governor Andrew Cuomo called previous maps “hyper partisan” and threatened to veto them. But they have not released any bills yet. The federally appointed special master intends to release her own version of state legislative maps by mid month, if lawmakers don’t act.
With time running out, petitioning for federal primaries begins March 20th,the talk has focused more in recent days on completing the lines than reforming the lines , much to the dismay of government reformers.
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch , who has taken on redistricting reform as a cause, is asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to follow through on a promise to veto any lines that are gerrymandered, and that are drawn without the consent of an independent commission.
But Cuomo says it’s now too late for an independent panel to draw the lines.
“I don’t know that we need another panel now,” said Cuomo, who says the courts have already appointed a panel to oversee the new lines.
In fact, the governor has been steadily distancing himself from the controversy, saying the matter is now “between the legislature and the courts”, and he has “no idea” what the ultimate outcome will be.
The governor says he is continuing to talk to legislative leaders about a constitutional amendment to ensure that next time the lines are drawn, in 2022, they will be done in a fairer manner.
Some government reform groups agree with that approach. Barbara Bartoletti, with the League of Women Voters, says if the constitutional amendment is accompanied by a law that also requires the lines to be drawn in a less partisan manner, then it would be at least an improvement from the present system of unlimited gerrymandering. She says it would “take the pen out of their hand”.
Cuomo has not said whether he’d trade a constitutional amendment for a withholding a veto of this decade’s redistricting lines. He also refuses to spell out how the proposed lines that he’s called “hyper political” should be changed, instead preferring to quote the former US Supreme Court Judge who was asked to define obscenity.
“I’ll know it when I see it,” Cuomo said.
And state lawmakers say they hope the governor will get to see their revised version of Senate and Assembly lines, as early as Monday.