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Legislators begin redistricting despite Governor's threat to veto

By Karen Dewitt/WRVO's Capitol Correspondent


ALBANY, NY – Governor Andrew Cuomo repeated his threat to veto any new gerrymandered districts by the state legislature, as one of the chairs of a legislative redistricting commission dismissed the Governor's warnings as "petty".

The legislative task force on redistricting met for the first time to schedule a series of public hearings around the state to begin the process of drawing new district lines for Senate, Assembly and Congressional districts. The panel is not the independent redistricting commission pushed in a bill by Governor Cuomo earlier this year. 80 Assembly Democrats signed on to Cuomo's bill, but it stalled in the GOP led State Senate.

The co-chair of the task force, Assemblyman Jack McEneny of Albany, says time is running out to draw the new lines, and the panel will go ahead with its work. And the Democratic Assemblyman chided Governor Cuomo, saying that, before the governor issues threats, he ought to first see what the task force decides.

"That would be a dumb reason to veto it," McEneny. "He should judge it on the quality of the product."

Assemblyman McEneny says there's too much time spent worrying about who will do the redistricting rather than on how it is done. The Assemblyman says he hopes the governor judges the final product on whether it "serves the people".

"And not who was the person who got to hold the pencil that drew the lines," said McEneny. "That would be a very petty approach"

Speaking in Syracuse, Governor Cuomo says he disagrees with the Assemblyman's "unkind words". And he says he doubts that he could accept any district lines drawn by the legislative task force, because it does not meet his criteria as non partisan.

"I will veto a plan that is not independent or a plan that is partisan," said Cuomo, who says he "understands" Assemblyman McEneny's desire to "draw his own lines".

"I want to have lines drawn that represent the people of the State of New York," Cuomo said.

Senate Republicans, who did not act on Cuomo's bill, say they are for a new, non partisan redistricting process, just not right now. They support a constitutional amendment to establish independent redistricting. The mechanics of changing the constitution require that two consecutively elected legislatures approve a measure, before it goes before voters in a subsequent election. That would mean that independent redistricting would not take place until the 2022 election cycle, leaving the Senate GOP to draw protected districts for another decade.

The Republicans, who hold on to the Senate by a slim one vote majority, have more to lose from non partisan redistricting than Assembly Democrats. Over the years, as the number of GOP voters has dwindled in the state , Republicans have carved out increasingly misshapen Senate districts to help their members retain enough GOP voters to keep their seats.

Senate task force chair Michael Nozzolio, from the Rochester region, says the redistricting process has to proceed under the existing commission structure. He says because of federal law changes, the state's primary may be moved from September to June, three months earlier, and he says that means the new lines must be configured by the end of the year.

"We're dealing in the reality that the task force has a mission and a mandate," said Nozzolio, who says the task force is taking its responsibilities "seriously".

Dick Dadey, with the government reform group Citizens Union, calls the task force process a "sham", and predicts that it will achieve little of value.

"For them to engage in this process thinking that it will result in district maps is a falsehood," said Dadey.

Citizens Union is working closely with former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who has made independent redistricting a priority, and who convinced many state lawmakers to sign a pledge promising non partisan district lines would be drawn this time around. Koch is calling on Cuomo to call a special session of the legislature to address the matter.