New York redistribution: does the independent commission play a role in party politics?

JAMAICA, Queens – This is one of the most political and ugliest aspects of American democracy: constituency redistribution.

Every ten years, politicians take the latest census data and try to use the new numbers to create a political advantage. But this time around, New York is aiming to get at least part of it out of politics.

The stakes could not be higher, with the Empire State losing a seat in Congress.

A group of independent commissioners – chosen by Republicans and Democrats – are holding hearings in the community. Their goal is to create a map that focuses on keeping communities under the same representation, not on the gerrymandering of certain groups for political purposes.

PIX11 News reporter Henry Rosoff went to one of these meetings and spoke to those in charge of the process, as well as some experts – and it’s not entirely clear that things are going as planned.

“This is the first time that New Yorkers have had the opportunity to influence their district boundaries in any meaningful way,” said Commission Chairman David Imamura, who was appointed Democrat.

However, party politics still seem to be at stake.

The committee has so far released two proposals for comment.

“It’s no surprise that the two cards – called ‘letters’ and ‘names’ instead of Democrat and Republican – show partisan bias,” said Susan Lerner of the Common Cause New York group.

The Democratic Trending Map, known as the “Letter Map,” leaves New York’s districts roughly as they are now. This keeps some of the more gerrymandered districts as they are – see the Nydia Velazuez Tri-Borough District and the Jerry Nadler District which is barely continuous.

The Democratic card also proposes to make Long Island, a traditional Republican stronghold, more competitive. The quarters of Democrat Tom Suozzi and Republicans Lee Zeldin and Andrew Garbarino would be lengthened.

In the upstate, where the state has lost population, Democratic commissioners have proposed making districts less competitive and more groups by party preference.

A map of the proposed “letter plan” for the New York redistribution. (Credit: NYIRC)

The Republican tilted map, known as the “plan of names,” would revise city districts by arrondissement. He’s also trying to create a likely second Republican neighborhood – outside of Staten Island – spanning south Brooklyn and southeast Queens.

Long Island would remain safer for Suozzi, Zeldin and Garbarino as part of the GOP commissioner’s plan. Upstate, the proposal aims to create more competitive neighborhoods.

A map of the proposed “name plan” for the New York redistribution. (Credit: NYIRC)

Notably, both cards would make the re-election of moderate Republican Congressman John Kato much more difficult. The two maps also appear to change the districts of the Hudson Valley to the point that it is not clear whether Democratic Congressman Antonio Delgado would be able to run without challenging another Democrat.

The commission will have to reconcile the two maps, which also show the State Assembly and State Senate districts, by the January 1 deadline.

If the Democrat-controlled legislature rejects the first proposal, the committee will have a second chance. If Democrats reject the second proposal, they can resume the process early next year,

Usually what happens is that New York is at least trying to be fairer to voters than states like Ohio and Texas.

These states have created highly partisan maps dividing cities and communities of color through a process called gerrymandering, which is designed to give the GOP huge advantages.

Michael Li, of the Brennan Center Democracy Program, said the temptation would be for Democrats in states like New York to ignore the commission and respond.

“I think it’s a real danger and a weakness in the way this commission was designed,” Li said. “It’s not completely free from partisan entanglements. It is only partially free and depends on the goodwill of the legislature and the governor.

New Yorkers can further explore the new maps on offer here.

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