For as long as anyone can remember, New York’s political parties have seen redistricting as an opportunity to solidify and expand their political power. Generations of politicians have engaged in ruthless, cynical gerrymandering. But until now they pretended to have respect for the principles of democracy.
That changed last week when state Senate President Malcolm Smith told a meeting of Democratic legislators that he intended to redistrict the Republicans into “oblivion.”
We agree with former Mayor Ed Koch: for Smith to make this statement was “stupid.” But we do not doubt this is exactly what Smith hopes will happen before the state redistricting is finished in 2012. It will be hard for the senator to convince anyone he is interested in bipartisan cooperation needed to address problems such as the state’s financial crisis.
Koch believes an independent commission should be formed to redistrict the state’s legislative lines. Smith told the New York Post he backs Koch’s call for ethics reform in Albany and more transparent budget practices. But he added he has not been “convinced that the Legislature should not be trusted to draw fair lines.”
How can the public trust the Legislature to redraw these lines when one of its leaders said he wants to gerrymander Republicans into “oblivion”? Smith would say later the use of the word was nothing but “a little enthusiasm.”
No doubt Smith regrets using the word. But we are not convinced the Democrats or Republicans should be given the responsibility of redrawing legislative and congressional lines. Gerrymandering is symptomatic of the out-of-control partisanship that has made the Legislature in Albany dysfunctional.
State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris and Sen. David Valesky, both Democrats, have introduced a bill calling for the creation of the kind of independent commission recommended by Koch. We believe voters, no matter what their party, would enthusiastically support this legislation.
We call on the legislators representing Queens in the Assembly and Senate to make it clear whether or not they vote in favor of this important reform.