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The Empire

Clergy to Cuomo: stick to your guns on redistricting

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A letter signed by prominent members of clergy from throughout New York calls on Governor Andrew Cuomo to "stand up for the rights of every vote" when it comes to redistricting.

The letter comes as the bipartisan legislative committee responsible for drawing new political boundaries is set to release draft maps in the next week or so, according to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. The clergymen say they are worried the process will "the unjust opportunity to choose which voters they represent and not allowed the voters to choose their representatives."

The full text of the letter signed by dozens of faith leaders from across New York is below.

Minority communities, good government groups and others have vocally called for a redistricting process they say will more fairly represent them in the state and Federal legislatures.

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The Empire

Good gov coalition drops 'nonpartisan' from redistricting lingo

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

[Note: NYPIRG's Bill Mahoney left a response in the comments section in reaction to my post. I've added his comments to the very end as a rebuttal.]

Or The Life Cycle of Political Reform

It seems like a well rehearsed script by now:

1. Some insidery government operation is about to get under way, full of anticipated opaque backroom dealings and partisan manipulations.

2. Good government groups, and the political opposition, make a tremendous noise about fairness, openness, and a government for, of, and by the people.

3. The insidery government operation makes noise about doing the right thing. Then they go about doing exactly what everyone was scared they'd do.

4. The political opposition screams bloody murder. And good government groups walk back their rhetoric, talk of compromise, and figure out how to be on the same stage as the insidery government operation folks when the deal gets signed.

The script is entering its fourth and final act for the state's redistricting process. After telling everyone they were interested in fairness and doing things transparently, Senate Republicans--aided and abetted by their colleagues in the Assembly's Democratic majority--last Friday surreptitiously revealed the final piece in the puzzle that will help to keep them in the majority.

This, despite being decisively in the minority when it comes to voter registration. In fact, there are more people now enrolled in no party than enrolled in the Republican Party. Likewise, across the state, Democratic Senate candidates, taken as whole, got almost 500,000 votes than their collective counterparts in the last Senate election cycle.

These are just facts.

But so is this: unless Governor Andrew Cuomo or a judge intervenes, New York's State Senate will have 63 seats next year, and they will be drawn in such a way as to protect the minority majority Senate Republicans.

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The Empire

Senate memo for 63rd seat doesn't calculate prisoner shift

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

At least that's what Todd Breitbart, the leading technical voice blasting Senate Republicans, appears to have figured out.

According to his analysis, the Republicans' Washington DC-based lawyer Michael Carvin used the data set released back in March:

The population counts shown in his table, "2010 Senate Size Calculation," are from the Census Bureau's March 2010 redistricting data release (the PL94-171 data). These counts - the state total, the 'ratio of apportionment,' the county totals and the figures for the parts of the Bronx - reflect neither the subtraction of the prison populations nor the reallocation of prisoners to their prior home addresses.

Now, this shouldn't be surprising: only at yesterday's LATFOR meeting was the prisoner reallocation issue--though agreed to in principle last month--officially accepted.

Breitbart's point--and I'm sure we'll see this increasingly from Senate Democrats--is that the Senate Republican argument that the method used to get to 62 seats in 2002 is the exact same used to get to 63 in 2012 is called into question. If that were the case, why wait until January 2012 when you could have done the work back in March and settled the issue then?

The assumption that's fueling Senate Ds' criticism is that the math to get to 63 wasn't settled back in March, just the desire to do so.

I'll try and follow up with Senator Nozzolio today to check on this, as well as their lawyer Michael Carvin.

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The Empire

The Senate GOP's extra seat: hidden method or manipulation?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Assemblyman McEneny, left, and Senator Nozzolio, right (Courtesy of the LATFOR Committee.)

Late in the workday last Friday the long-anticipated LATFOR bomb dropped. There was no press release or announcement. Instead, a word or two were changed on the committees website and a new link to a document were all that indicated that the size of the New York State Senate would increase from 62 to 63 seats next year.

The move has been bashed by Senate Democrats (the Governor and Assemblymembers have been tellingly silent) and good government groups since it was noticed after 5 pm on Friday. They argue its a purely political attempt for the Senate Republicans to manufacture and maintain their majority. Senate Republicans are defending the decision as constitutional.

How the GOP can justify a new seat requires a bit of state constitutional knowledge. Unlike the Assembly, which has its number firmly set at 150, the Senate’s number is dictated by a formula that allows it to grow alongside the state’s population. (Jimmy Vielkind of the Times Union has a detailed breakdown of the math behind the change.)

At least that’s the idea. The problem really lies in the fact that the formula was decided upon and made law before a pretty big development occurred for New York: the incorporation of the City of New York in 1898. The Senate’s formula didn’t take into account the dividing of Queens County into the borough and Nassau County, nor the creation of the Bronx as its own county in 1914. Likewise Staten Island and Suffolk County were grouped into one Senate district.

This is the crux of why there’s even a debate over how many seats there are in the Senate. From 1972 to 1992, there was one agreed upon interpretation of how to apply the formula, per a ruling by the state’s highest court. The reason Senate Democrats are so angry over the 63rd seat announcement is because they believe Republicans are, again, changing how they want to count the counties that have morphed since 1894.

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The Empire

'The Capitol Pressroom' with Susan Arbetter

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Today on "The Capitol Pressroom":

If you have something to say about hydrofracking, you need to tell the DEC today. Why? Tomorrow is the deadline for public comment on the issue. Advocates on all sides are expected to rally in Albany today. We will speak to members of a pro-drilling land owners coalition, as well as to a contingent of anti-frackers from Tompkins County including Jannette Barthe and Martha Robertson.

One analysis of the State Senate majority’s plans for an additional seat suggests that the extra representation would negate the effects of the GOP’s loss in the prison gerrymandering lawsuit. Whew. That’s a mouthful. With analysis from the Democrat’s perspective, we speak with Senators Michael Gianaris, D – Astoria and Liz Krueger, D – Manhattan.

We also hear analysis from the Republican’s perspective.

Lara Kassel of Medicaid Matters updates us on the progress of the Medicaid Redesign Committee.

Yesterday SUNY’s Chancellor Nancy Zimpher presented her State of SUNY address. Today she joins us with details. We will also ask her to weigh in on the explosive teacher evaluation issue stemming from New York City’s failure to come to an agreement on the issue, prompting State Ed Commissioner Dr. John King put the brakes on some funding.

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The Empire

LATFOR site subtly announces 63rd Senate seat

Friday, January 06, 2012

Below is the letter that LATFOR has posted on their website justifying the increase of the State Senate from 62 to 63 seats. The move had been anticipated after Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos indicated last week that there was "a good chance" the Senate would add a 63rd seat.

Senate Republicans, according to an official, are saying the methodology used in 2002 to create 62 seats is the same being used now, and that the increase is mandated by the formula set by the New York Constitution.

In a phone interview, Democratic State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens said Senate Republicans have reached "a new low in old Albany partisan politics."

"Just when we thought we'd turned the corner, with Governor Cuomo leading the way, to a new way of doing business in Albany, the Senate Republicans remind us that they're nothing but everything that's wrong with state government," Gianaris said. He said this gives the Governor even more of a reason to make good on his promise of vetoing the maps LATFOR produces.

One person close to LATFOR noted that Senate Republicans could have, instead of posting a memo at 5 pm on a Friday, made the announcement at the LATFOR public hearing scheduled for this coming Tuesday.

One of the big questions outstanding is whether or not Assembly Democrats cooperated with or were made aware of the Senate Republican's plans to announce the 63rd seat. As the message was posted to the LATFOR site, and one person close to LATFOR said Assembly Democrats were often the ones posting new documentation to the website, there seems to be a very high likelihood.

Senate Size

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The Empire

Senator Dilan doesn't understand how Senate Rs do the math for a 63rd district sans prisoners

Friday, January 06, 2012

Brooklyn State Senator Martin Dilan has a set of somewhat rhetorical questions for his Republican colleagues reported plans to try increasing the chamber's size from 62 to 63. In a statement released this afternoon, Dilan, who sits on the bicameral committee responsible for drawing new district lines, preempted a rumor that Republicans could be releasing draft maps today.

"Comments made earlier this week by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos indicated that a draft redistricting plan will include a 63rd Senate District and that it could be introduced as early as today. I hope that it is not the case, as such a determination at this time would be disconcerting to say the least, and an affront to our State Constitution and a deeply vested public," Dilan said.

Dilan pointed out that the recent agreement on prisoner reallocation has so far not been finalized, and wondered how the Senate Republicans could put together maps without knowing where to count the more than 46,000 prisoners.

“I hope for the sake of all New Yorkers that this act is not a sign of what’s to come as the redistricting process moves forward," the Senator said.

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The Empire

GOP Leaders Strike Deal on Prisoner Redistricting

Thursday, December 22, 2011

This article has been updated.

State GOP leaders have agreed to count more than 46,000 prisoners across New York state as residents in their home neighborhoods, instead of where they are incarcerated. The battle has serious implications for the state's redistricting efforts, drawing more weight to downstate areas from upstate counties where prisons are located.

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The Empire

California's 'independent' redistricting fiasco: a cautionary tale

Thursday, December 22, 2011

ProPublica has a breathlessly delivered article about California's redistrict process that was "surreptitiously" hijacked by Democrats for maximum partisan gain in their new Congressional maps. It’s an instructive tale of how arguably the most extremely “independent” process in the country led—at least at the Congressional level—to even more lopsided lines than before.

"What emerges is a portrait of skilled political professionals armed with modern mapping software and detailed voter information who managed to replicate the results of the smoked-filled rooms of old,” ProPublica tells us. You can read the full article here.

In the end, there’s something violently Californian about the whole thing. Like their solution to taxes—ever increasing mandates but an unwillingness to tax them—the redistricting process appears to be an extreme perfect-as-the-enemy-of-the-good situation: commissioners so thoroughly sanitized of any hint of partisanship they were blind to the partisan manipulations happening right in front of them.

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The Empire

Common Cause submits its own redistricting maps, drawn on a blank slate

Monday, December 19, 2011

The good-government group, and regular critic of New York’s legislature-led redistricting process, todayunveiled its proposed maps for both the state legislature and Congress. The lines were drawn wholly divorced from the current maps and who the representatives are, according to Common Cause. They say they began with the most basic geographic boundaries—towns, cities and county lines—before adding demographic data to create what they say are non-partisan alternatives to gerrymandered districts.

“We have been outspoken about the problems with the current process, which is characterized by partisanship and political self-interest,” said Common Cause’s executive director Susan Lerner during a conference call. “Our goal has been to show that there is no practical impediment—it’s only a political one—to achieving fair, non-politicized district maps.”

Common Cause’s maps were released in partnership with Newsday, and the interactive map database “U Map NY” is located here.

Let’s take a look at these by legislative level, and keep it focused on the city.

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The Empire

Prisoner counting decision gets appealed by Republicans

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Times-Union's Jimmy Vielkind caught this key piece in the ongoing redistricting process. As expected, Republicans are appealing the ruling that will allow prisoners to be counted in their last known home address prior to incarceration for the purpose of redistricting.

As Jimmy points out, the Republicans are trying to move up the appeals ladder quickly, petitioning to have the case reviewed directly by the Federal Court of Appeals.

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The Empire

Judge postpones primary date ruling until early January

Monday, December 12, 2011

UPDATE: Times-Union's Jimmy Vielkind posted a note saying Judge Sharpe indicated his preference would be to keep the primary date as close to the current date as possible. This should give encouragement to Republicans, who are pushing for an August primary.

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Judge Gary Sharpe has postponed a ruling on when the state's new primary date will be next year. According to a person who was at the hearing, Judge Sharpe has given two weeks worth of extensions for supplemental filings and reviews. A ruling is now expected during the begninning of January.

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The Empire

Despite prisoner ruling LATFOR essentially stalled

Monday, December 12, 2011

Senator Michael Nozzolio (Courtesy of LATFOR)

As the end of the year quickly approaches, New Yorkers are still waiting for the bipartisan, bicameral Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (quizzically acronymed as LATFOR) to produce new maps of state and Federal legislative districts. Later today, a Federal judge may rule on when the state’s new Federally-mandated primary will be. Then again, he may not. As usual, the state’s redistricting process is producing more questions that answer.

One thing is for sure: state prisoners, the bulk of which are housed upstate, will be counted in their last known districts. But just how that counting takes place—and how long that will take—is unknown.

“We said from the outside--and I’ve led the discussion--indicating that all laws are to be complied with," Senator Michael Nozzolio, one of LATFOR’s co-chairs, said during a phone interview last week. “We believe that the counting of prisoners should be as inclusive as possible, and that all should be counted."

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The Empire

Can Brooklyn's historical black Congressional district survive?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Update: Links to the US Census Bureau statics are not include in links.

In our first installment examining how the decennial redistricting process affects—and is affected by—ethnic and racial communities of interest, we took a look at Queens’ growing Asian community who are calling for more opportunities to be part of the political process. We made our own plurality Asian Congressional district, which brought up the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the role it’s played in New York City politics.

Few communities have benefited more from the VRA than the black community. While Harlem has been cast as the symbolic center for black politics in New York City, the real epicenter of black political power is Brooklyn. It has been, and remains, the borough with the largest African American, Caribbean and continental African population.

But as with the rest of the city, Brooklyn’s black population is in a state of flux. A number of external and internal forces have reduced the relative and absolute population of people of African descent, and the trend lines going forward indicate a city that will continue to be less black. The waning size of the black population—sooner or later—will have a corresponding effect on black political power in the city.

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The Empire

Judge rules prisoner can be counted in home districts

Friday, December 02, 2011

In a blow to Senate Republicans today, New York Supreme Court Judge Eugene Devine ruled that the law to have prisoners in state facilities be counted at their last known address prior to incarceration is, in fact, constitutionally legal. The ruling makes the likelihood of tens of thousands of prisoners being counted in downstate districts for redistricting purposes increasingly more likely.

The decision is after the jump at the end.

"Though inmates may be physically found in the location of their respective correctional facilities at the time the census is conducted, there is nothing in the record to indicate that such inmates have any actual permanency in these locations or have an intent to remain," Judge Devine said in his decision.

"Today's decision by Judge Devine is a victory for fundamental fairness and equal representation,” Attorney General Schneiderman, whose office argued in defense of the reallocation law, said in a statement. “As a lawmaker, I fought to end the practice of prison-based gerrymandering that distorted the democratic process and undermined the principle of ‘one person, one vote.’ This decision affirms and applies a fair standard to the drawing of state legislative districts and makes it easier for counties to do the same by providing them with an accurate data set.”

As I wrote when the case was first heard back in October, Judge Devine was asking tough questions of the defense:

The Senate Republican attorney David Lewis was not available for comment, but Senate staffer, who had spoken with Lewis, said the judge, Eugene Devine, did indeed have questions for the defense, interrupting their explanations to ask clarifying questions. The Republican source said the senate plaintiffs were taking this as a good sign, suggesting the judge might have found the reasoning suspect.

It appears Judge Devine was convinced that counting methods that were different from the census process or previous state methods passed muster.

In March 2010, [Census Bureau Director Robert] Groves stated that the Census Bureaus counts individuals as their "usual residence" and that, for inmates in particular, states were free to decide the manner in which prisoners were counted, namely, at the prisons, at their pre-incarceration addresses or altogether removed from "redistricting formulas," where residential information was unavailable.

Senate Democrats, who have the most to potentially gain in the process, are understandably pleased with the outcome. "The time for delay is over. The Senate Republicans and LATFOR must immediately comply with the law. Any further delay is an outrageous and illegal assault on Democracy," said Senate Democrats spokesperson Mike Murphy.

David Lewis, who argued the case for the defendants, said his clients planned to appeal. "We're looking to appeal directly to the [Federal] Court of Appeals because of the constitutional issue and the timing," he said.

Dale Ho, who argued the case on behalf of the NAACP, said he didn't expect a different result. "I think the appellate courts will understand that Judge Devine got this exactly right," he said.

Senate Republican took the decision in stride, with spokesman Scott Reif saying confidently in a statement, "We will review the judge's decision, but regardless of the final outcome of this lawsuit Republicans will expand our majority in the Senate next year."

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The Empire

LATFOR co-chair says Speaker Silver's independent commission idea could work

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Over the weekend, the Times Thomas Kaplan wrote that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was interested in striking a deal on redistricting:

In an interview this week, the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, sketched out what he said could be a compromise — an eight-member bipartisan commission, with equal representation for each party, that would be appointed by the Legislature but made up entirely of people who are not lawmakers. The Democratic and Republican leaders in the Assembly and Senate would each appoint two members who would have equal funding, access to data and control of the map-making process.

“I think that goes a long way toward reform,” Mr. Silver said. “It wouldn’t be a political advantage to anybody. Majorities cannot just draw districts to the exclusion and the detriment of the minorities.”

The man Silver has heading up the Assembly's efforts on the LATFOR committee, Jack McEneny, said he was fine with the idea.

"I would have no objection to the kind of thing that the Speaker was advocating," McEneny said in a brief phone interview. That's likely because McEneny said he's been saying he would be open to something similar to what the Speaker proposed since at least July.

"It would seem some outside force, above reproach but knowledgeable, would be helpful for the governor to judge a plan in detail, and then make recommendations to the governor to be signed, or veto, or simply amended," he said.

In statements, Senate Republican Majority spokesperson Scott Reif has mantained what's sounding more and more like a mantra on redistricting for his side: "Senate Republicans remain committed to a redistricting process that is bipartisan, open and fair."

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The Empire

First lawsuit filed over redistricting in New York

Monday, November 21, 2011

A high-powered New York City law firm became the first to sue the state over its slow-moving redistricting process last week. Lawyers from Willkie Farr & Gallagher file a complaint in Federal court on Thursday of last week, asking the court to intervene in the redistrict process which, according to the complaint, "threatens to throw the state's 2012 elections into a quagmire absent court intervention."

The lawsuit is the first this time around, but the decennial redistricting process usually plays out in the courts. There was some surprise that the suit has come this earlier. LATFOR, the legislative committee responsible for drawing new lines, hasn't agreed upon what those will look like. Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he'll veto lines that aren't drawn in an independent, non-partisan manner.

But the suit seeks to circumvent the whole process. The defendants are asking the court to appoint a special master to intervene now to complete the entire redistricting process in time for the state to meet its obligations, like having lines in place in time for an earlier-than-normal primary date, for the 2012 elections--something advocates fear LATFOR and the Governor will fail to meet.

"[The lawsuit] goes to the rising frustration that voters have over the lack of movement on creating an independent commission on these lines," said Dick Dadey, the executive director of Citizen Union. His organization today is releasing a report that argues that there's still time for an independent drawing of lines. The report calls on the Governor to bring the legislature back for a special session to create an independent commission to take over the redistricting process from LATFOR.

"Legislators must honor their word and keep their commitments by returning to Albany in a special legislative session to finally end partisan gerrymandering and enact redistricting reform," the report advises. "New Yorkers have already waited for many decades for redistricting reform. The fulfillment of that promise cannot wait another ten years."

Check out Citizens Union's report after the jump.

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WNYC News

Group Asks Judge to Oversee NY Redistricting

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A group of civic leaders has filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to take over the process of redrawing the boundaries of New York's congressional districts.

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The Empire

Latest LATFOR meeting ends pretty much where it began

Friday, November 18, 2011

By Karen DeWitt, New York Public Radio Capital Bureau Chief

Assemblyman McEneny, left, and Senator Nozzolio, right (Courtesy of the LATFOR Committee.)

Deliberations over drawing new legislative and congressional districts continue in Albany, as legislators have hit a new hurdle in the complex process.

Lawmakers have decided where to count the prisoners, in the homes they were living before their incarceration, a change that benefits the districts of many Democrats at the expense of Republicans. But they are still arguing about how to count the prisoners, and what kind of computer software and database to use. Task force Co-Chair, Assemblyman Jack McEneny, a Democrat, offered an amendment, but it was rejected by GOP lawmakers.

“Unfortunately, we are still in disagreement,” said McEneny, a Democrat from Albany.

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The Empire

Feds waiver denial for NY on primary day weighs on LATFOR meeting

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Yesterday the Department of Defense denied the state's request for a waiver from the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act. The Act says that oversees voters must have enough time to vote in the primary elections in their states, which has meant New York's September primary is too close to the actual Election Day to satisfy the 45-day requirement for ballots to be sent out.

This new development will certainly be discussed at tomorrow's LATFOR meeting in Albany. A Federal judge will now likely rule early next month on when, exactly, the new primary date should be to comply with the military voting act. Republicans are arguing for August. Democrats want to see the primary in June.

As I've written earlier, the dates matter:

f the judge picks an earlier date, it makes things very difficult for Republicans. A June primary means districts need to be in place by the end of February. This means the lines will have to be introduced and voted on sooner rather than later.

...

Republicans hope for an August date, the thinking goes, because it means they’ll have more time to push the redistricting vote into budget negotiations. If they can do that, they might be able to use redistricting as leverage and force the Governor to abandon his veto threat in favor of a smooth budget process.

This is just one issue facing the committee tomorrow. The other big issue is prisoner reapportionment. There are rumors the Senate Republicans are going to say they can't completely agree with their Democratic counterparts in the Assembly on how to count prisoners. This wouldn't be surprising. It will buy the Republicans more time, as they want the judge in their case to overturn the law to make a decision before they commit to a process.

That being said, don't let the actions of LATFOR fool you. They're going through the motions. On both sides, maps have been drawn. It's just a matter of timing--when, and which maps to reveal.

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