A key component of both Andrew Cuomo’s Plan For A New New York and Ed Koch’s NY Uprising pledge is to end gerrymandered districts by taking redistricting out of the hands of elected officials and turning the line-drawing over to independent, non-partisan panel.
But several Washington Democrats have expressed concern that doing so would hurt the state’s relative power in D.C., and could weaken Democrats across the nation.
According to several sources, Sen. Chuck Schumer expressed to Mayor Koch personally his fear that if non-partisan redistricting were to occur, Democrats would lose a net of four seats in the New York delegation alone. In 2012 and beyond, this could mean the difference between Democrats holding (or re-gaining) control of Congress.
In an interview, Koch seemed unconcerned.
“He may very well be right. I do not know what fair, impartial redistricting would do [to Democratically-held seats in the New York congressional delegation.] But let the chips fall where they may,” the former mayor said. “It’s not something you should consider when you engage in redistricting.”
Congressman Joe Crowley, who also chairs the Queens county party, said that it would be unfair if only New York were to engage in non-partisand redistricting while the other 49 states let lawmakers draw their own lines.
“I think we would prefer to see something done nationally, not done by individual states,” he said. “That’s not the proper response.”
Any non-partisan redistricting plan would likely have to be reviewed by the Department of Justice, since parts of the state are still subject to the Voting Rights Act, which is supposed to insure minority representation.
Congressman Jose Serrano of the Bronx said that he feared that if non-partisan redistricting occurred, it would mean diminished political power forLatinos.
“So many of the gains Puerto Ricans and Latinos made in those [early] days were not based on any independent commission saying, ‘Gee you guys deserve this.’ It was the so-called political bosses realizing what they had to deal with,” he said, adding, “At times when it comes to issues like redistricting I’d rather deal with somebody who knows the district they are drawing than somebody who thinks that you can just draw a box.”
In his policy book, Cuomo notes that since 1970 only 40 incumbent state legislators have lost their seats in an election, out of more than 4,000 choices. He proposes an independent commission that would hold public hearings throughout the state, and says that as governor he would veto any 2012 redistricting plan that reflects partisan gerrymandering.
Both Rep. Crowley and his fellow Queens congressman Anthony Weiner raised the specter of the 2003 Texas redistricting plan, which wiped out Democrats after a protracted legal battle.
Weiner though noted that where congressional lines end up will ultimately be the purview of state legislators, and said he was mostly unconcerned, both for himself and for Democrats around the state.
“Whatever lines they draw for me hopefully I will get re-elected,” he said. “Don’t presume you can even draw district that Democrats will lose. At some point the number of Republicans and the number of Democrats in this state becomes an immutable fact. There is only so much you can do to change that. If you draw boxes I think Democrats do better, not worse.”