Koch on Non-Partisan Redistricting

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Ed Koch, former mayor of New York City (D, 1978-1989) and U.S. Congressman, founder of NY Uprising, talked about how Albany legislators are doing in fulfilling their pledge to reform the redistricting process.

Mayor Koch has jumped in head-first to support non-partisan redistricting in New York. He wants to form an independent redistricting commission in time for the 2012 election. The census results have New York state losing two of its 29 Congressional seats in 2012, but New York is the only state seriously considering revamping their redistricting strategy. Gov. Cuomo introduced his redistricting bill last month which also supports the idea of an independent commission.

Out of 62 state senators, 54 have promised to support an independent commission for redistricting. In the Assembly, 84 of 150 have made the pledge — a majority in both houses. But Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos has recently backed out on his promise to support Koch's plan and the former Mayor is not happy about it.

We're going to bring that to the attention of his constituents and so far as we know, many of the Republicans, all of them who made the written pledge, may follow their leader and if they do, they will be dishonorable and we will hold them up where ever we can to contempt, but I believe that people are honorable and I believe that most of these people will vote to keep their pledges.

After every census, redistricting takes place in order to keep equal demographics in each district. To assure that each party is protected, Koch said the Democrats, who currently run the Assembly, redistrict the Assembly and the Majority Leader in the Senate does the same for the Senate to protect the incumbents. According to Koch, redistricting is very partisan in New York, and it's a big problem.

New York, as far as I know, has the lowest turnover rate, it's an impossible rate to accept, less than three percent of the people who run for re-election are defeated.  That's not democracy. And it isn't because they're loved, because they've done a terrific job, it is because in the Senate they work the district so it looks like a salamander, which is where the name gerrymander came, in order to get all the Republicans in and all the Democrats out and conversely they do the same in the Assembly.

Koch said an independent commission would prevent this kind of partisan redistricting from taking place.

Some Republicans may be backing out because the 2010 census results show more population down state which could mean the sate is more democratic. This could be a big disadvantage for them. But Koch said, it's not about Democrat or Republican, it's about fairness. (His idea has also been rejected by some Democrats.)

I had Sen. Schumer called me, and when I asked him to support non-partisan redistricting he said, no he couldn't do it, because we would lose, said he, three democrat congressional seats. I said to him, what's that got to do with good government? I mean I'm a good Democrat, he's a good Democrat, but if you're only interested in party loyalty, you're an idiot in my judgment. There's something called fairness, there's something called doing the right thing for the state of New York. So just as Sen. Schumer fears the loss of three members of the House of Representatives, Skelos fears that there'll be a comparable loss on the Republican side. I'm saying, who cares. I don't care. Sometimes the party demands too much.

As for a few other things in the news, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's new version of the millionaires tax to help balance the state budget applies to million dollar incomes only. Koch said, this is a little too high and $250,000 is too low.

Let me just say, I'm a rich man and I don't like paying taxes but I think it's fair that I do. You can't just cut budgets and say we're going to balance the budget simply by removing services to the poor, to the young, to education, to all the things that are discretionary on the part of the state, it's just wrong to do...I believe in fair taxation.

And for Libya? Koch has an opinion about that too.

I'm for stopping our bombing and participation in bombing in Libya...I think Britain and France and the Arab countries should do the bombings. I wouldn't care if they killed Gaddafi, but we've done enough. We are now bogged down in two wars, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. We should be getting out of there.

As for the Republicans concern that this might squander U.S. leadership in the world?

That's baloney!