As legislators were poised to pass redrawn lines for Assembly and state Senate districts on Wednesday, as this paper was going to press, Queens elected officials and civic leaders were urging Gov. Cuomo to do what he has been threatening for months — veto the lines many argue split apart communities and were gerrymandered to favor incumbents on both sides of the political aisle.
“All along we stood by the governor and said, ‘Veto these lines because of the process,’” state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said. “He said he’d veto them, and now we hear that he might not because of this compromise with redistricting reform that would take place 10 years from now. I’m voting no — not because of the lines, but for the process that created the lines.”
Redistricting happens once every 10 years after the federal Census numbers are published. The idea behind it is to redraw the political coverage areas so they better represent the changing demographics as reported by the Census, though everyone from good government groups to civic leaders and legislators themselves have criticized New York’s process, saying it leads to contorted boundary lines that divide residents of similar backgrounds or interest in order to favor incumbents.
The Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, often referred to as LATFOR, is a group of legislators, including leaders from the major parties in the Assembly and Senate, tasked with redrawing the lines.
Cuomo had repeatedly said he may veto the maps if he thought they were politically drawn,but has changed his tune as of late. The governor said he may avoid a veto if legislators back a constitutional amendment that would create an independent redistricting commission, which would take control of the process the next time the lines are redrawn —a decade from now.
“The constitutional amendment, we need it but legislators had their opportunity to do that this year and they failed,” Addabbo said. “We needed to do that this year, not 10 years from now.”
The proposal for Addabbo’s district would cut portions of Ozone Park and Woodhaven from it and add more conservative neighborhoods in the Rockaways — a move that insiders have seen as an attempt by Assembly Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau) to pave the way for Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) to run against Addabbo.
“I haven’t ruled it out,” Ulrich said of a possible run for Senate. “But right now I’m focused on doing my job. I’m very busy with my duties in the City Council. When I know what the lines are going to look like, I might take a second look at it.”
Addabbo said he does not “concern myself” with the idea of being challenged.
“That’s out of my control,” he said. “What’s in my control is my work product, and I’ve worked as hard as I can.”
While LATFOR amended its original proposal so state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) would not have to run against each other, it kept the 16th Senate District as originally planned —pitting state Sens. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and Tony Avella (D-Bayside) against each other. The district would become a majority Asian district, for which a number of Asian-American groups have been advocating. Still, the Asian American Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy said there are a number of problems with the district as proposed, including the fact that Flushing would be divided into two Senate districts and Fresh Meadows, where there is a sizeable Asian population, would not be included.
Civil rights leaders from southeast Queens protested outside Borough Hall on Monday against the proposed lines, namely that a new Senate district would be added upstate, which typically has fewer minority voters and is more conservative.
“We cannot understand how you have a decrease in population upstate, and yet you add a seat upstate,” said Leroy Gadsden, president of the NAACP’s Jamaica chapter. “If you’re downstate, that 63rd seat makes you less of a person when you come to the polling site.”
Civil rights leaders, including former Councilman Archie Spigner, also called on Cuomo to veto the lines.