Legislature releases new district lines, senate dems cry foul

The New York State legislature’s proposed redistricted lines have been finally been released to the public. The plans for Senate districts are drawing the most fire,  for the addition of a newly created 63rd district and configurations that pit some incumbent minority party Democrats against one another.

The GOP is creating a new 63rd district carved out of rural regions stretching form Amsterdam through Schenectady and Albany counties, to as far south as Kingston.  The Republicans are also proposing to pit six incumbent minority party democrats against one another into three seats, including the head of the Democrats’ fundraising committee, Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who is outraged.

“It’s hard to argue there’s any purpose to that other than to screw me specifically,” said Gianaris.

Senator Gianaris’ and his Senate Democratic colleagues  condemned the new lines, saying the Republicans are following the “Tom Delay strategy “ for redistricting, and “completely unacceptable”.

Senator Michael Nozzolio, who is the Senate co-chair of the legislative redistricting task force, defends the decision, saying the Democratic Senators had to be squeezed together in order to create the first ever Asian American Majority district, and to place the city’s Orthodox Jewish communities together in one district, instead of the present configuration which spreads them out over five separate districts.  He dismisses the Democrat’s complaints.

“It’s carping, and it’s political posturing,” said Nozzolio, who says the “numbers” rule the day.

The Senator acknowledges the plan does not include any incumbent Republicans doubled up in the same district.

Senate Republicans currently hold a razor thin one vote majority in the Senate, and GOP enrollment has been steadily dropping. Senator Nozzolio says the 63rd district, which is largely configured to support an additional Republican Senator was determined solely by grouping together communities of interest and dictated by a formula in the state’s constitution.

“That formula decides the size of the Senate,” said Nozzolio. “It’s not the Senators, it’s not the Assemblymen, it’s not the governor who decides that.”

Government reform groups were not impressed with the new lines.  Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who has led a redistricting reform effort, says “it’s no surprise” that he is  “disappointed” in the results.  The New York Public Interest Research Group called them  “clearly the most gerrymandered lines in recent New York history”.

Governor Cuomo could play a pivotal role in the process and determine whether the legislature’s lines are ultimately adopted. Cuomo says he has not changed his mind about a long standing threat to veto any lines that are partisan, and not done by an independent commission. But the governor also seemed to take a fatalistic view of the process.

“I don’t know where it ends,”’ Cuomo said. “I think you let the process play out.”

The governor says he’s been talking to legislative leaders for months, trying to reach an agreement that they can all live with, but so far has been unsuccessful.

“Obviously they have not accepted my position, and I have not accepted their position,” Cuomo said “Hence, we are where we are”.

If Cuomo vetoes the lines, the fight will shift to the federal courts, and what is ultimately decided is anyone’s guess.

In the meantime, the legislative task force on redistricting plans to hold a series of hearings over the next few weeks, to seek public comment on the proposed lines.  Senator Nozzolio calls the new lines a “first draft” and says they could change.

Karen DeWitt’s interview with Senator Nozzolio airs on NY Now, Sunday at 11:00am on WSKG Public TV.
PHOTO: Matt Ryan / NY Now