The Districting Commission tasked with redrawing City Council lines unveiled yesterday the latest, and likely last, version of those lines. After a process fraught with alleged backroom deals and heated public hearings, the lines are a City Council vote away from being final for another decade.
Some alterations were made to satisfy the demands of civic groups and minority advocacy organizations, but, at first glance, many were not.
New York Congressman Steve Israel, who heads up the House Democrats’ campaign efforts, made an interesting pitch to NY1′s Errol Louis on Inside City Hall last Friday. He argued the most New York is now in play with the judge’s new congressional redistricting plan.
“Right in New York, as a result of the map the courts have approved, we have races all over the state that will be competitive,” he said, before ticking down a laundry list of newly competitive seats.
Earlier today, good government advocate Bill Samuels took the rhetorical hammer to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s record over his middle-of-the-night compromise legislation on redistricting reform this week.
“I think it’s a historically terrible thing for the history of our state,” he began his interview with The Capitol Pressroom‘s Susan Arbetter.
“To the extent our governor had a chance to be a great governor, when history is written, that opportunity is gone forever,” he continued. “It’s only a question of whether maybe he can go down in history maybe as a mediocre governor.”
Earlier today, the New York State Senate Democrats asked the court currently enacting the state’s new Congressional redistricting plan to consider expanding their efforts and, at the very least, draw up their own maps for the State Senate as well.
They made two core arguments about the need for this legal action in their letter to the court.
“First, the Legislature’s plan is subject to preclearance by the Department of Justice pursuant to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a process that can take up to 60 days,” the wrote, referring to the required process of federal review for some counties in New York like the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn.
Professor Gerry Benjamin, an expert on the mechanisms of government at State University of New York at New Paltz, was asked by Citizens’ Committee for an Effective Constitution to take a look at Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature’s much-touted redistricting amendment and grade it point-by-point against what a truly independent amendment would look like.
Unsurprisingly, he found it wanting. He gave the amendment a ‘C-’ overall on an ‘A’ through ‘F’ scale.
the big ugly
In the wee hours of the morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo blasted out a statement touting two of the three aspects of his redistricting compromise: a constitutional amendment providing a commission to draw districts the in the future and a statue to implement the amendment as ordinary law if the Legislature doesn’t follow through with its promise to pass the amendment in the subsequent legislative session.
(Left unsaid are the “less hyper-political” lines standard he previously presented as a condition of his support.)
“This agreement will permanently reform the redistricting process in New York to once and for all end self-interested and partisan gerrymandering,” Governor Cuomo said in the release.
This afternoon, the Republicans controlling the New York State Senate filed their formal objection to the congressional redistricting plan currently being considered by a three-judge panel, and their arguments directly centered on the need for incumbency protection measures for Republican Representatives.
“Professor Persily generally dismisses the Senate Majority Defendants’ (and other parties’) concerns about ‘respecting the cores of prior districts,’ insisting such claims are merely ‘pretextual arguments for protecting incumbents,’ they wrote in their letter. “As a threshold matter, incumbency protection is a traditional redistricting principle, as Professor Persily himself has previously recognized.”
The letter further argued against placing incumbents politicians in the same districts if at all possible.
“[A]voiding incumbency pairings actually enhances the reality and appearance of judicial impartiality,” they wrote, again contending protecting sitting Representatives should be more highly prioritized in the process.
Councilman Charles Barron decided to make his beef over the court-drawn Congressional map formal, submitting a letter to the three-judge panel that outlined, in his opinion, the racial unfairness of the map. However, his arguments are either legally or practically questionable.
“After thorough review of these plans, I also noticed that racially, the white Congressional Districts would be more solidified with an overwhelming majority population, thereby making it almost impossible for them to lose any power,” Mr. Barron, who’s a candidate for Congress himself this year, wrote.
“For example, the new 27th District is 92.7% white, the 21st District – 91.6% white, the 23rd District – 90% white, the 19th District – 86% white, the 20th District – 79% white, the 24th District – 83% white, the 1st District – 77.9% white, and the beat goes on. The whites are secured in their power base.”
Assemblyman Karim Camara, who heads New York State’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, announced his caucus’ opposition to the legislative redistricting plan and suggested many legislators will vote to send the plan back to the drawing board today.
Mr. Camara argued the State Senate’s plan violates the Voting Rights Act because it splits minority communities in Long Island, as well as other places, where they could be kept whole.
“We expect it to come to a vote today and we expect … it will have significant opposition to it. But our concern isn’t whether this bill passes or fails,” Mr. Camara told Fred Dicker on his radio show this morning. “Our concern is to use every legal recourse available, including the courts, to challenge the lines, which would include a strong possibility of a lawsuit by the caucus against the lines [regardless of] whatever happens today.”
On The Capitol Pressroom today, Governor Andrew Cuomo continued criticizing what he called “the quote unquote ‘judicial’ lines” the court presented for New York State’s new congressional map. Mr. Cuomo posited the court’s flaws in drawing the congressional map make a compromise with the Legislature over the State Assembly and State Senate maps a relatively welcome deal.
First, Mr. Cuomo argued again the judge’s map was “remarkably similar” to the competing plans the State Assembly and State Senate presented to the court.
However, a quick glance at the court’s map and the legislative proposals shows this not to be the case.