Scanlon is a former member of Community Board Seven in Queens, New York City and is the founder of Beech Avenue Restoration
That's My Issue: Redistricting
Thursday, August 23, 2012
In 1962, the song "It's My Party" was written - the same year in which the U.S. Supreme Court had a benchmark ruling. Baker v. Carr opened the federal courts to a long line of apportionment cases, holding that voters could challenge the constitutionality of electoral apportionment in federal court.
One can argue that malapportionment for political gain is almost as old as the Republic itself – tracking its birthday to before ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789.
What passes for democracy today in New York City is a far cry from what one would imagine it ought be. If anyone thought that this issue – re-districting – deciding who votes where – is well-settled - think again, especially if you are anywhere within New York State. Every ten years, the New York City Charter requires that after each decennial census that an independent commission be appointed to redraw each of the fifty-one Council District lines to properly portray the city’s demographics. The members of the Districting Commission are appointed by the Mayor and leaders of the N.Y.C. Council.
While the Districting Commission’s mandate is circumscribed by the data, process and criteria set forth in Federal law, the 2012 US Census Bureau data and the New York City Charter – one may opine that the raison d’etre – all sublime – all the time – of this undertaking is rawly political.
Leslie Gore’s refrain – “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to…cry if I want to…you would cry too if it happened to you” – must become a rallying cry now more than ever with New Yorkers if this political rumble is to be up-ended.
The bare facts: while there are three established political parties in New York – Conservative, Democratic, Republican – the more meaningful ‘party’ in terms of re-districting - is the one to which the public is certainly not invited. That ‘party’ is the party of the political ruling class – it’s where they ‘gift’ themselves with incumbency as long as the law will abide by determining who will have the privilege of voting for each, deciding what their Council District will look like in terms of over-arching demographic political criteria: Age, economic status, gender, gender preference, race, religion, etc.
The myth – that the public decides who will represent them by voting – suffers a harsh meltdown when one considers the political truth of this ‘party’ to which New York voters have never been issued an ‘invitation’. It’s not our ‘party’ – it should be – and we can and must do a lot more than cry!
Let’s be very clear – when one says ‘ the fix is in’ that artifice is not the exclusive purview of current office-holders. Indeed, not. There are many ‘out-of-office-holders’ who benefit disproportionately by this very crafty re-arrangement of democracy. They too benefit who play this political charade on the side-lines.
That I submit is overwhelmingly why re-districting has been the bane of 20th Century New York City. If all those who have gone along to get along were not so substantial in perceived clout and influence this political razzle-dazzle would never have flourished so successfully within the five Boroughs of the City of New York.
Given the well-deserved reputation of the N.Y.S. Legislature as an at best dysfunctional entity many assume that this bastardization of democracy is exercised exclusively north of New York City. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Thirtieth Olympiad has just concluded. It’s time now in Downstate New York to let the real and most important game of democracy to begin – namely unfiltered, unbiased interactive selection by voters of their legislative representatives – namely via voting.
Who can be surprised that this rigged political scheme has resulted in so much malaise at the voting site – fewer and fewer individuals voting, fewer and fewer number of voters engaged in the process of selecting and advancing their needs and interests by their self-selected representatives.
Say it ain’t so: are current office-holders in New York so frail, so insecure, so incompetent that the only way they can ensure continued full employment is by racheting up this deplorable methodology time and time again. This is New York City – it’s time to hold our political representatives to a real standard of political accountability – not this chicanery and political faux 'favour'.
Noblesse oblige move over - it's time to give real legal meaning to the right to vote back to New Yorkers. Democracy is the best party of all – for, by and with all.