New redistricting lines reflect Albany’s sham reform

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The pattern emerging has become transparently clear. The governor pushes for reform, in this case the once-a-decade redistricting of legislative lines, and threatens a veto if the state Legislature fails to act. The Legislature’s public face supports the governor’s call for reform and avoids publicly challenging him.

The Democrat and Republican leaders scuttle real reform and quietly craft their own version of Albany reform. They call the governor’s bluff, he capitulates, the bill passes, the governor signs it and all spin it as a victory for reform.

The only problem is it’s a sham.

This scenario recently played out during the redistricting battle in which former Mayor Ed Koch, good government groups and numerous civic organizations, such as Eastern Queens United, called on the governor to veto the gerrymandered, incumbent-protected legislative lines.

Hundreds of civic activists, including myself, attended meetings and waited for hours at public hearings for the chance to say a few words in support of keeping our communities united and intact within compact legislative districts. The legislative maps we opposed sliced and diced our neighborhoods and communities into blobs on a map.

The public hearings held by the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, the legislative committee empowered to draw the district lines, proved to be a dog-and-pony show. With scores of civic associations in attendance, maps in hand and community leaders providing persuasive testimony, one would have thought that these voices would have had some impact on the committee.

Quite the contrary.

Up until the last moment, the governor threatened to veto these community-busting lines if they were not drawn by an independent, nonpartisan commission. That was until the three men in a room — state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Cuomo — crafted their secret deal.

Instead of a veto, the governor punted.

To now hear the governor spin this as a victory for reform by claiming he has forged an agreement that permanently fixes the process by which politically driven legislative district lines are drawn is preposterous. What he actually agreed to was a proposed amendment to the state constitution that replaces the LATFOR committee,, of currently serving incumbent hacks, with a new panel of non-serving, politically appointed hacks to draw the new district lines.

Yes, the new panel will comprise of non-sitting legislators appointed by legislative leaders — the same ones who got us into this mess in the first place. And if the Legislature dislikes the lines its own panel creates, it can vote them down and draw the new lines themselves. Isn’t that what the governor’s fix is supposed to prevent?

This is politics as usual, a sham masquerading as reform that will not take place until 2022, after the next census. The new process is as corrupt as the old one and is a slap in the face to every civic organization and activist who has served the interests of the community rather than the interests of the politicians. The contempt shown by these legislators to the communities they serve is stunning.

Gerrymandered, community-busting lines were drawn by both chambers, one controlled by Democrats and the other by Republicans. Both parties share the blame. The governor could have refused to buckle. He could have vetoed the lines as he said he would do. He could have advocated for an independent judicial panel to draw nonpartisan lines.

Instead, he chose the path of political expediency and threw us under the bus en route to his declaration of victory.

But not so fast, Cuomo. Eastern Queens United and other civic groups recently met and will soon announce a public rally at the governor’s office in Manhattan calling for real, not sham, reform.

Be there and be heard.

Posted 2:29 am, March 29, 2012
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