Rosenthal memo has Dems smiling

TRENTON – Rutgers University Prof. Alan Rosenthal appeared in the Statehouse in advance of this afternoon’s redistricting hearing, where he will make his debut, and the atmosphere suddenly seemed less political and more cerebral.

“Yes, I do,” he told when asked if he intends to give his definition of a fair and constitutional map when they put a microphone in front of him.

Will it be a bombshell?

Landing in a morass of two maps presented by two different parties and charged single-handedly with sorting out the mess, Rosenthal chuckled.

“No,” he said, insisting his definition will be generalized.

He acknowledged people will try to pry from it immediate application.

Barely able to contain themselves in their closed door meeting rooms following the alleged circulation of a memo written by the legislative redistricting commission’s 11th member, Democrats allowed themselves a mini endzone dance this week – even as they head into the next round of redistricting hearings today. 

Party glee followed the alleged release of a memo by Rosenthal and subsequent conference call among the party’s redistricting members. Sources familiar with the memo said it outlined the Rutgers Professor’s fairness test for the map ultimately adopted by the commission.

Democrats say their map submitted to the commission’s tiebreaker meets the 11th member’s definition of fair and constitutional, which Rosenthal issued this week. That interpretation promptly trickled into the party’s collective bloodstream, and by evening, lawmakers at a Tuesday night political event were crowing that it’s over: the Democrats have won the map and the Republicans have lost.

The memo reportedly rejects a key Republican contention that because the the GOP has garnered the majority of the votes in recent years, the majority of the legislative seats should belong to them. The GOP had argued that in determining fairness, Rosenthal should use actual vote totals as opposed to district averages.

The GOP – and at least one Democrat cautious about declaring an early victory – said the D’s were spinning, and didn’t read Rosenthal’s memo as a tabula rasa for their own failed redistricting fortunes.

“We’re very confident about where we are right now,” said Redistricting Comission Co-Chairman Jay Webber.

Sources said the memo was not without good news for the GOP as Rosenthal agreed to use  gubernatorial and legislative elections held in 2005, 2007 and 2009, as the fairness test rather than all ten years worth of elections as the Democrats had requested.

But three Democratic Party sources said Rosenthal’s memo contains good news for the party in power.

On an appointment by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, Rosenthal joined the redistricting commission last week after the five Democrats and five Republicans failed to secure an agreement on a legislative map and declared an impasse.

A day after Rabner affirmed him as the commission’s 11th member, the Rutgers University prof received a map from Republicans.

Sources said it’s a map with 17 Republican seats, 17 Democratic seats, and six toss-up competitive districts. The map contains two Hispanic districts: the 33rd and the 32nd; and the GOP’s vision of a new 32nd bulges westward out of North Bergen to include the City of Passaic.

Two sources said the Democrats supplied Rosenthal with a map that contains 24 advantage Democratic seats and 16 Republican advantage seats. A third source said the map was 23-17.

Seeking to preserve their legislative majority, the Democrats’ map accounts for population shifts (an uptick in Jersey City poulation, for example, that rearranges the Hudson County districts, for example) but does not break dramatically from the current map that has existed for a decade. Democrats said Rosenthal’s definition of fairness upholds a competitive edge for Democrats. Moreover, said one source, several Republican districts in their finished product did not meet the constitutionally required strictures of plus or minus five percent for population in several of the legislative districts.

“No comment,” Rosenthal told earlier this week when asked about both that and his issuance of a memo.

Sources said the tiebreaker later fired off another memo to all parties concerned telling them to eliminate the leaks, and as Republicans insisted the leaks were bogus, Democratic Party members quietly continued to celebrate.

Welcoming Rosenthal to his first hearing, the commission meets publicly at 2 p.m. in the Statehouse.

Rosenthal memo has Dems smiling