Gov. Cuomo is reforming the state government in leaps and bounds, but many members of the Legislature haven’t gotten the memo yet. So the redrawing of lawmakers’ districts for the Assembly, Senate and U.S. Congress following the Census has been typical of the Albany of years past: behind schedule, nonsensical in many respects and, of course, utterly politicized.
Now the federal judiciary may step in to clean up the mess our lawmakers, especially members of the Republican-led Senate, have made of the redistricting process. Judge Dennis Jacobs, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, on Tuesday named a three-judge panel to consider whether a special master should be appointed to oversee the redrawing of the lines.
It’s a welcome development. For one thing, time is of the essence, and there’s not much reason to have any faith the legislators serving on LATFOR, the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, will get the work done soon enough. The problem is that congressional primaries are scheduled for June 26, nearly three months earlier than in the past, because of a new federal law designed to ensure that servicemen and women overseas get their ballots well ahead of the general election. And candidates need time to gather the signatures they need to get on the ballot, not to mention the financial contributions they need to run — both of which are impossible if they don’t know where the districts will be.
The other reason we welcome federal intervention is that LATFOR has proven itself incapable of designing fair districts that provide the voters with the representation they deserve. And the whole process has been flawed from the start. Most lawmakers from Queens had signed on to a reform effort led by former Mayor Ed Koch, promising to appoint an independent body to redraw the lines. That simply never happened, and Cuomo, who stuck to his word, has said that he will veto LATFOR’s proposal.
What the people of Queens said they want are lines that make sense and keep communities of common interest together. With the Senate plan at least, we got none of that.
It’s always been this way, which is why civic activists pressed so hard for reform this time around. Many district boundaries make no sense. Take Howard Beach, where Rep. Bob Turner represents the western half of the community and Rep. Gregory Meeks the eastern half, with Cross Bay Boulevard as the dividing line. Or look at the 27th Assembly District, represented by Michael Simanowitz, which starts in College Point and runs south through Willets Point and Flushing Meadows Park, but not Flushing proper, takes in Kew Gardens Hills and then reaches into Richmond Hill and Woodhaven. These are not communities of common interest.
The grandaddy of them all, however, may be Sen. Toby Stavisky’s 16th Senatorial District. That one has at least four distinct sections, depending on how you count them. It includes a piece of Astoria and LaGuardia Airport in one chunk; Forest Hills and some of Rego Park, Elmhurst and Woodside in another; Kew Gardens Hills, Fresh Meadows and Oakland Gardens in a third; and finally much of southwestern Flushing in the last piece — which then runs along the Whitestone Expressway and Cross Island Parkway to link with Bay Terrace and Beechhurst. You’ve got to see it to believe it. And the new proposal makes no improvement.
It took the federal government’s power to end widespread racial gerrymandering in the South, and we’re sorry to say it will probably take the federal government to stop the political gerrymandering we see in Queens and around the state today. It has to be done soon.