Brian Browne, the vice president of governmental relations at St. John’s University and an adjunct professor of government and politics, put it as well as anyone in describing the Senate Republicans’ approach to drawing new lines for legislative districts, as required every 10 years following the Census:
“My view is that the Republicans were not just partisan; they went rogue,” Browne said. (Note the playful slap at GOP rabble-rouser Sarah Palin, a nice touch.)
And that’s not just rhetoric. First the Republicans on the committee charged with crafting the new districts for state Senate seats decided they would expand the body from 62 members to 63. Make no mistake: There was no reason to do that other than to give them the opportunity to gerrymander the lines so that the new member would most likely be another Republican, helping the party maintain its super-slim edge in the Senate.
Then they went a step further and drew the districts so that incumbent Democratic senators would be forced to face off against one another in three separate districts. They did this by crafting the lines so that a given senator’s house is now within what used to be the neighboring district. Two of these blatant political maneuvers were made in Queens. In the western part of the borough, Sen. Mike Gianaris will either have to move or run a primary against Sen. Jose Peralta. In northern Queens, the same thing was done to Sen. Tony Avella and Sen. Toby Stavisky.
These attempts at dividing and conquering are reason enough for Gov. Cuomo to veto the plan, as he has indicated he will. But then there’s the fact that they were drawn up by lawmakers themselves, rather than an independent commission. Under pressure from former Mayor Ed Koch, dozens of legislators in both houses had said they would only back new district lines drawn up by a nonpartisan panel of non-lawmakers. Some, like Gianaris, Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. of Ozone Park and Assemblyman David Weprin of Little Neck stuck to their word this week when asked about the promises they had made. Many other Queens lawmakers, alas, dithered or simply declined to answer.
The lines also largely failed to do what the people wanted: keep similar communities with common interests together. And the GOP used the allowable population range in senatorial districts to its maximum advantage, sticking to the low end upstate and the high end in the city, diluting the relative power of individual citizens here.
Unlike some lawmakers, as governor, Cuomo will have no choice but to take a stand one if the plan ever reaches his desk. We hope it doesn’t, but if it does, we hope he will keep his word and veto it.
Barring that, the insightful Browne says, the proposal will end up in court, where again, fairness would call for it to be defeated.