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The Empire

Are these New York's future congressional lines?

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With the release of her draft maps, magistrate judge Roanne Mann moved the congressional redistricting process forward in a major way. But these aren't the first set of maps that have been the focus of intense speculation. Most recently the senate and assembly both presented the courts with plans that got treated with significant interest by the the media, commentators and the public.

A number of people, including potential candidates for congress, have referred to these lines in relation to the state legislature's own process for redrawing maps.

"We should not jump to the conclusion that these will be the final lines, as the state legislature may yet come to an agreement on a map that would supersede the proposal released today," said Tom Wilson, who has been playing a run against Republican Congresswoman Nan Hayworth in the Hudson Valley.

"We sincerely hope that Albany gets its act together and agrees on more sensible congressional lines so that the Special Master's proposal doesn't become law," said The Woodhaven Residents' Block Association after seeing their neighborhood divide between two districts in Mann's plan.

Which raises the question, are these the lines we'll have for the next ten years?

The answer could be yes. First, a note on the schedule for the court's process. All the groups and individuals involved in the Favors case Judge Mann is presiding over need to have written comments on her proposal in by 9 am tomorrow, March 7. There's been speculation she may call the parties back into court to discuss what they say later this week.

But what's certain is the magistrate judge will have a revised, final set of proposed maps to the three-judge panel overseeing this whole process by Monday, March 12. Then, the parties will again be able to comment on the maps directly to the three-judge panel before the panel meets on March 15. The expectation is that a final decision on the maps will be made shortly thereafter, as petitioning to get on the congressional primary ballot begins two weeks from today.

There remains an outside chance the legislature could step up and pass congressional maps before the three-judge panel does next week. It would require not only passing the maps, but changing the date of the congressional primary from June 26 to a later date. The federal judge that set the June date, Judge Sharpe, left the door open for this to happen, but so far the senate and assembly have been unable to come to an agreement on a date.

Oh, yeah: the legislature also needs to get both the Department of Justice to sign off on the maps--something they have up to 60 days to do--and Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign them. He's promised to veto maps if they remain "hyper-partisan."

Common Cause's Susan Lerner praised the maps, calling the proposal "a vast improvement over the self-serving interests of the Legislature," while Citizens Union's Dick Dadey said, "The Congressional maps presented today by the court show that an independent process can produce better districts than those drawn by the legislature." Were these the sort of hypo-partisan maps the Governor was imagining?

Still, according to one line of thinking, it might come down to whether or not the congressional delegation is all that unhappy about the maps. Some, like Representative Gary Ackerman, have signaled they're fine with what's presented and are ready to run. Others, like Congressman Jerry Nadler, barely saw their districts move. Others still, like a good chunk of the Long Island delegation, might simply see the redrawn districts as good enough and move in.

In a sense, it may come down to whether or not a critical mass develops among the delegation; if there's not a fight from them for better lines, should the state legislature even bother?

So far, it's uncertain where things stand on this point. Both Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader, through a spokesman, have indicated they'd still like to make a deal on congressional districts. They'd better hurry. Time's running out.