Koch Rips Republicans: They Are 'Derailing' Redistricting Reform

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Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is accusing Senate Republicans of "derailing" redistricting reform, and breaking a pledge they made to the ex-mayor’s reform group during the most recent election campaign.

A number of legislators, including nearly all of the Senate Republicans, signed a pledge to former Koch and his reform group saying they would back an independent redistricting commission to draw the new Senate, Assembly and Congressional lines, as required every 10 years under the Census Bureau rules.   

But Koch said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is backing away from that pledge. Koch, following a meeting with the Senate leader, said Skelos is "not going to honor his commitment."

"We believe it is simply an effort to derail the whole operation," said Koch.

Koch said Skelos told him he has constitutional concerns with a bipartisan redistricting bill proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Senate leader said he believes the state constitution says only the legislature can draw new district lines.

According to Koch, Skelos instead wants to pursue a constitutional amendment. The requirements of that process would mean no redistricting reform could be in place until January 2013, well after the crucial 2012 deadline to redraw the lines for the next 10 years.

Koch said he may resurrect a tactic he used in the campaigns: robo-calls to recalcitrant Senators’ constituents, featuring his voice asking, "Won’t you please call your Senator now and tell him you’re ashamed of him?"

Senate Democrats, who stood with Koch, sought to score political points. Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson said Republicans were at the "height of hypocrisy" and accused them of  "selective amnesia" when it came to Koch’s pledge, which Democrats also signed.

The GOP now holds a one vote, 32-seat majority, so any tinkering with the district lines could result in Democrats taking control of the chamber.  

The Senate Majority Leader did not comment publicly after meeting with former mayor. He did issue a statement, saying he told Koch that the governor’s bill would unfairly weight the redistricting commission in favor of Democrats.  But he said it is the Senate GOP's "intention to pursue a redistricting reform measure that will meet the NY Uprising pledge."

And Skelos took a shot back at Senate Democrats, saying if they had begun the constitutional process when they had control of the Senate, the proposal could have become law before the next redistricting deadline. Democrats did not act on redistricting during the two years that they controlled the chamber. A constitutional amendment requires the approval of two successively elected state legislatures, plus the okay of the voters in a statewide election.  

Koch later said he's encouraged by Skelos' statement. The former mayor had just completed a meeting with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has introduced the governor's redistricting reform bill in the Assembly. Koch, who once called Silver an "enemy" of reform for the speaker's refusal to sign the pledge during the last campaigns, now calls Silver a "leader of reform," and said he was satisfied with the meeting.  

"Outstanding, I really can’t tell you how pleased I am with his attitude and his actions," said Koch.  

The speaker, who said at the time that he does not sign any pledges on principal, said he will not contradict the mayor's statements.

"I’m not going to disagree with him," said Silver, with a smile.

Assembly Democrats, with a solid 99 out of 150 vote majority, can afford to be more open to redistricting changes. An independent commission would likely not result in new districts that would force Assembly Democrats out of power.