Queens legislators are lashing out at an agreement reached in Albany during a session that ran into the early hours Thursday morning on a number of unrelated issues, including redistricting, pension reform and casino gambling, saying it was a “dirty” back-door deal that forced politicians to vote on long, complex bills without having time to read them.
“Everything about last night was bad,” state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said Wednesday. “The lateness of the hour, the substance of the redistricting bill and the substance of the other bills. It was as bad an episode as I’ve ever seen in Albany.”
The governor and legislators also reached a deal on statewide teacher evaluations and an expansion of the state’s criminal DNA database at the same time.
“There was a dirty deal done that got a whole bunch of issues roped in together,” Gianaris said. “The Legislature had minutes to contemplate bills that were as long as 80 pages because nobody wanted to give us time to debate them.”
After saying in recent months that he may veto the proposed political lines, Cuomo supported the redistricting deal because it includes a constitutional amendment and legal statute that establishes an independent redistricting commission to preside over the redrawing of Assembly, state Senate and Congressional lines the next time it happens 10 years from now.
“This agreement will permanently reform the redistricting process in New York to once and for all end self-interested and partisan gerrymandering,” Cuomo said. “With the Legislature agreeing to pass this historic constitutional amendment twice by a specified date, and passing a tough statute that mirrors the amendment, we have taken a major step toward finally reforming the state’s broken redistricting process.”
Originally, the group tasked with redrawing the lines — the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, or LATFOR — proposed moving the block where Gianaris lives into the district represented by state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights), which would have forced him to run against Peralta in a Democratic primary. The lines that were passed no longer would pit Gianaris against Peralta. Still, the Astoria legislator said the districts for Queens, and the state in general, are “terrible” and a “horrible product.”
Other Senate Democrats agree with their colleague, and they filed a lawsuit on Wednesday that challenges the creation of a 63rd Senate district upstate, which is likely to help Republicans in the upcoming election because the area typically leans right politically.
“In a time when people are calling for a more efficient, smaller government, we’re expanding the Senate for obviously political reasons in an election year?” state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said.
Addabbo also criticized the final lines — which could be changed depending on what happens with the number of lawsuits that are expected to be filed, including one that Gianaris said will challenge the maps based on “minority communities being disenfranchised.”
“They split up communities,” Addabbo added. “Ridgewood, Woodhaven and Ozone Park have been split up, and it’s wrong.”
Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) also slammed the lines that were passed, saying the map for Assembly District 24 would divide the South Asian community and crack apart neighborhoods that have a long history of collaborative advocacy and civic engagement.
“I made a promise to my constituents that if the proposed redistricting maps divided communities of interest and reflected gerrymandered districts, I would vote no on the bill,” Weprin said in a prepared statement. “Last night I kept that promise.”
As for the other issues, Addabbo and Gianaris said they had essentially no time to review the measures that were passed.
“The bills, some of which are 80 pages long, get rushed — what’s the necessity?” Addabbo asked. “We could’ve voted on these next week. Why do you have to pass this bill on March 14 at 11:30 at night? It smells; it stinks.”
Under the pension reform, most future government workers would not begin to receive their retirement benefits until the age of 63 and would have to funnel more of their salary into the pension fund.
Legislators also agreed to amend the state constitution to allow seven privately owned casinos. The public will get a chance to vote on this matter, which is expected to happen in November 2013. Legislators will also have to vote on the matter again next year.
That would allow traditional casino games like blackjack and craps to be played at Resorts World New York, the racino at Aqueduct Race Track.
“Enhancing gaming in New York by bringing table games to casinos will stimulate our economy, draw additional businesses into the state and create opportunities for countless jobs, increased tourism and much-needed revenue,” Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park) said in a prepared statement. “Since the day it opened, Resorts World has served as an eager and effective community partner, delivering on their promise of local jobs and serving as an economic engine for the region. With that in mind, I will work with my colleagues to ensure that Resorts World receives one of the seven casino licenses, and can therefore continue to succeed and grow as an economic driver for the Southern Queens community.”
Legislators also signed off on a new teacher evaluation system that sets up annual assessments based on students’ test scores and classroom performance, among other categories.