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Queens pols wait to start campaigns for Legislature

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The start of the political season in Queens and the rest of the city was put on hold for two weeks Monday when the state Legislature failed to agree on a plan to lay out new congressional districts that affect the borough.

Delaying the date when the candidates for Congress and the Legislature can begin the arduous task of circulating petitions and collecting signatures to get on the ballot gives the state the window of opportunity it needs to design the new congressional districts before a federal plan gets implemented.

The plan, designed by federal special master Frederick Lacey, was to have taken effect at midnight Monday, but the Legislature’s delay in starting the political season added two weeks to the mandatory enforcement deadline. Lacey’s plan called for combining two upstate Republican districts and two upstate Democratic districts in order to shrink New York state’s congressional delegation by two seats.

Under the plan U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, might be moved out of Queens and face a tough re-election bid.

Some supporters of U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) are distressed that his district lines are likely to be changed so that his seat no longer covers all of Howard Beach and Ozone Park.

“While we have yet to reach an agreement concerning the reapportionment of the New York state congressional districts,” said state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Nassau) in a statement, “we are talking and working to reach a comprehensive legislative resolution.”

Skelos said that in an effort to maintain existing representation in the congressional districts, reflect population trends, take into account the challenges of eliminating two seats and maintain an equal voice for all New Yorkers, the Legislature is looking at a number of possibilities.

Lacey’s proposal pits U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-Utica) against U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-Ulster) in one district and U.S. Rep Jack Quinn (R-Buffalo) against U.S. Rep. John LaFalce (D-Buffalo) in another in order to shrink the state’s congressional delegation from 31 seats to 29 seats.

The state’s plan would have U.S. Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-Middletown) face off against U.S. Rep. Sue Kelly (R-Fishkill) and U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-Rochester) go up against LaFalce.

There was concern by both the Democrat and Republican parties over the federal proposal because it would put longtime party loyalists on shaky ground.

Both Lowey and U.S. Rep. Thomas Reynolds (R-Victor) would face changed boundaries, which would mean neither incumbent would be a shoo-in for re-election.

The state must eliminate two congressional seats for the 2002 elections because seats are allocated by population. And according to the 2000 Census figures, New York state only grew by a rate of 5.5 percent, while the country grew at a rate of 13.2 percent.

In addition to the congressional redistricting, both the state Senate and Assembly will be redistricted based on population trends.

If no agreement can be reached by the state Legislature, the federal court can impose its plan without clearance from the state. But the plans by the state court and the state Legislature have to be approved by the U.S. Justice Department.

Borough residents are also upset with the federal redistricting proposals.

In Howard Beach and Ozone Park many residents who have developed a relationship with Weiner are angered that they have been moved into U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks’ (D-St. Albans) district.

Immigrant groups have also claimed the division of their population inhibits their ability to build strong coalitions and a unified voice.

Borough communities that have similar populations are like- minded and have similar needs and concerns, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund contended.

“We believe it is inappropriate to gerrymander and dilute voting strength of areas that should be kept together,” said Glenn Magpantay, an attorney for AALEDF. “Keeping these communities together gives them a stronger voice and accountability over elected officials.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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