Legislature rejects redistricting maps 1

The Independent Redistricting Commission cannot agree on a new set of maps for legislative lines and has produced different ones on a partisan basis. Above, a map for state Senate lines made by Democrats would remove Howard Beach from the 15th District, now held by Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr.

After the state Independent Redistricting Commission failed to produce a unified set of maps for the U.S. House, state Senate and Assembly last week, the state Legislature inched closer toward taking the process into its own hands — a move that would be more likely to produce partisan results.

The IRC, a group voted in by voters back in 2014 with the goal of creating a nonpartisan redistricting process, submitted a set of maps to the Legislature last week without reaching bipartisan consensus. The members of the commission appointed by Democrats and those appointed by Republicans each submitted their own set of district lines — a repeat of what happened with the IRC’s draft maps in September.

In response, both chambers of the Legislature rejected the IRC’s maps on Monday.

The commission now technically has until the end of February to make a second attempt to compromise and produce one map to submit for the Legislature’s consideration.

But with the spring primary political calendar starting at the beginning of March, New York Law School redistricting expert Jeffrey Wice said that pressure will be on the commission to finish its second proposal by the end of January in order to give the Legislature a window to create its own maps in the event that lawmakers reject the commission’s proposal a second time.

“Whether they can come to agreement or not is a major question, and we can’t answer that until we see what they try doing,” Wice told the Chronicle.

He added that there’s nothing to indicate that the Democrats in Albany won’t reject a second Democratic commission map. Though the commission’s 10 members were appointed by each respective party, they’re working without any lines of communication to their parties.

Gov. Hochul signed a law in November that will hand off the responsibility of redistricting to the Legislature if the commission remains deadlocked. If state Democrats, who have supermajorities in both legislative chambers, reject the IRC again, they will have a window to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts in a way that could favor their odds in a handful of congressional seats, as House Democrats fight to keep their majority during the upcoming midterms.

The path toward a state Democrat-drawn redistricting map would also be on a tight time frame. If the New York lawmakers can’t reach an agreement by the end of February, state or federal courts could step in and take over the process — an event that took place with the state congressional map last redistricting cycle when the Legislature ran out of time to come to an agreement. In 2012, however, the Democrats did not control both chambers.

If last week’s IRC meeting is any indication, the partisan-appointed members of the commission, which break down to five Republicans and five Democrats, have their work cut out for them before they’re able to reach a consensus.

At last Monday’s meeting, IRC Chairman David Imamura, a Democratically appointed member, said the body had made progress coming to an agreement on a majority of the state, but the negotiations broke down at the end of December. The meeting lapsed into finger-pointing about which group was at fault for the standstill.

“Throughout this process what has disappointed me most about my Republican colleagues is their seeming indifference to public input and an unwillingness to put pen to paper and modify their maps,” Imamura said.

Republican-appointed Commissioner Jack Martins criticized Imamura’s characterization of the process and said that Democrats had drawn their own maps and refused to make concessions.

“The fact that the commission members appointed by the majority in the Legislature chose to go out and draw their own map was up to them. But our effort was to reach consensus without either side digging in your heels and advancing partisan maps,” said Martins.

In the event that the Democratically controlled Legislature does take over the process, the Democrats could face their own set of challenges in passing a set of state legislative maps that elicit the support of a majority of members. In some cases, drastic changes could threaten sitting members with new primary challenges. In Queens, for instance, the IRC’s Democratic state map cut off the district of Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) from part of his base in the Rockaways and Howard Beach. Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Long Island City) would have the Maspeth and Ridgewood portions of her district lopped off.

According to Wice, the composition of the Legislature and the new role of the IRC will make the process over the next few weeks unpredictable.

“We’re going through a new untested redistricting process with a new state law guiding policy makers,” he said.

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