After months of speculation and weeks of delays, the legislative task force responsible for redrawing all of New York’s state Senate and Assembly districts released maps Thursday afternoon. The new maps include a new 63rd Senate seat near Albany, an Asian-majority senate district and an additional Assembly one both in Queens, and a heavily Orthodox Jewish senate district in Southern Brooklyn.
Senate Republicans said the plan is “fair, legal and protects minority voting interests.”
But the official release brought an almost immediate denouncement from good government groups, Democratic senate lawmakers and even Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“At first glance, these lines are simply unacceptable and would be vetoed by the Governor. We need a better process and product,” a spokesman for the governor said in an email.
Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, said the way forward for Cuomo is clear. “The governor should veto these lines because they violate the pledge he made and 184 legislators made to the public," he said. “The legislature cannot be trusted drawing fair and impartial lines."
Maps Show Gerrymandering and Cracking
In a conference call with reporters, Common Cause’s Susan Lerner said that, in the limited time the group had had to review the documents, the maps left a lot to be desired.
“Overall, the maps appear to continue the long tradition of partisan gerrymandering we’ve come to expect, unfortunately, from our legislators,” Lerner said.
And NYPIG’s Bill Mahoney agrees, describing the Senate’s map as “clearly the most gerrymandered lines in recent New York history.”
Some of the most egregious redistricting happened in downstate New York, according to Lerner.
Lerner said that Senate districts in the city were “too atrociously gerrymandered to describe in detail right now” and “worse than the current ones in some place.” The Upper West Side went from a three-district split to a four-district split, and the Senate’s Asian-majority district in Queens was criticized for dividing up the Asian communities in Flushing and Elmhurst.
On Long Island, which has seen large African-American and Latino population growth over the past decade, Lerner said minority communities appear to be divided in ways that diluted their voting strength—a process known as “cracking.” The Babylon and Islip area in Suffolk County is divided up between three districts, while the Hempstead area on Nassau is cut up by four districts.
“This is a decades-long cracking,” Lerner said.
On the Assembly side, Lerner noted that a district was “kidnapped” from upstate to allow for an extra district in Long Island. It’s a move that ends up benefiting the city, which has the same number of districts as it did before because of the move.
More of the Same from Democrats and Republicans
Senate Democrats also blasted the Senate Republicans’ maps as the “culmination of their broken promise” to draw lines in an independent, non-partisan process.
“This Republican proposal contains none of the criteria reformers sought and none of the reforms the governor included in his proposed legislation. The Republican-proposed districts are not compact, vary widely in population, and divide communities of interest in blatantly political ways,” Senate Minority Leader John Sampson said in a statement.
Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelo’s spokesman Scott Reif hit back, noting that the Democrats did nothing to push forward an independent process while in the majority.
"Despite the reflexive criticism from the hypocritical Senate Democrats, this plan consolidates communities of interest, strengthens every African-American district in New York City and creates a first-ever Asian-American majority district in Queens,” Rief said, noting that districts in the proposed plan contain three-fourths or more of the existing districts. “This plan is fair and legal, and they know it."
Former Mayor Ed Koch refuted Senate Republicans’ assertion of fairness. Many Senate Republicans, as well as Assembly Democrats, signed a pledge initiated by Koch to make this year’s redistricting process independent and non-partisan.
“No surprise, I am disappointed in this result and in the dishonorable lawmakers who openly pledged to do things differently this year, and then reneged when it wasn't to their political advantage,” Koch said in a statement. “What a shame: this is not reform in letter or in spirit. Today, victory lies with the Enemies of Reform.”
Public hearings on the proposed maps will begin on Monday in Albany. The first hearing in the New York City will be next Tuesday at 3 p.m. in the Bronx Museum of the Arts.