Thursday, February 16, 2012

Remapping Never Balances Political Districts (February 17, 2012)

An edited version of  this column may be seen at: http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/2012

Few voters  even the most apathetic  need to be reminded that politicians tend to be self-serving more than dispassionate and impartial. It’s never more evident than once a decade when political district lines must be redrawn.
 Looking at political district maps for Brooklyn and the city, you might think you’re gazing at an elaborate jigsaw puzzle. Yet, the process seems to get more complex when the lines are remapped after the census is analyzed every ten years.
Nevertheless, the best laid district lines for Democrats and Republicans usually don’t count much towards a representative democracy, but rather to do what’s best for the ruling political party.
Consequently, all state legislative seats are on the ballot this year and the political districts pie must be remapped before fall elections. Naturally, each party prefers a bigger slice, even after Republicans promised to end to gerrymandering, which leaves one party with an advantage over its opponents, and establish an independent redistricting process two years ago when they regained control of the state Senate.
However, as politicians are often do, the GOP broke that promise and is trying to impose partisan boundaries, including a whole new district, either upstate near Albany or in Nassau County, in order to safeguard its slim majority.
So much for guarantees by politicians, who, more often than not, tend to utter whatever they think the public wants to hear, then, no sooner they are safely ensconced in legislature, some of them go their own way when they become aware that incumbents rarely lose in state elections.
The new state senate lines for Brooklyn, revealed on February 2, eliminate the 27th district, which, until Carl Kruger pled guilty to corruption charges and resigned last December, he represented for over a decade. That district encompasses real estate from Mill Basin west to Brighton Beach and, if purged, the GOP will expand the districts currently represented by state senators Mary Golden, a Republican, and Democrat John Sampson, who would get the Mill Basin and Bergen Beach communities added to districts, including Canarsie, that he already represents.
Political insiders insist there’s a slim chance the proposed lines will be adopted since Governor Andrew Cuomo vowed to veto any partisan remapping after his call for an independent redistricting commission was rejected. Let’s hope he doesn’t agree to any compromise that would allow him to renege, like the Republicans. The Senate and Assembly are expected to redraft a redistricting plan before the end of February.
Independent activists called the GOP plan “the most gerrymandered lines” in recent history. Former Mayor Ed Koch, who has advocated independent redistricting, said he was disappointed in the proposal and a victory “lies with the enemies of reform.”
Reacting to the proposed controversial boundaries drawn up by a legislative task force, which prompted a lawsuit, a Brooklyn Federal District Court judge this week wisely recommended that the state’s stalled redistricting process be supervised by a court-appointed special master to ensure it complies with state and federal laws.
Two weeks ago, another lawsuit senate Democrats filed a lawsuit to challenge the GOP plan, which has drawn criticism from advocates who oppose district changes they maintain are unfair to minorities. Republicans insist that the convoluted formula is valid according to New York’s Constitution.
Therefore, the only way to impartially balance subsequent redistricting is to change the Constitution, ban gerrymandering and create a proposition to allow New Yorkers vote on it. Although that creates another challenge; making voters understand what’s at stake and getting a concerned number of them to participate in the process.
However, some people are so ambivalent they have no clue as to who represents them on the local, state and federal levels. So it comes as no surprise that few even know  or care  about district boundaries, whether it’s for the City Council, the state Assembly or Senate or the U.S. Congress.
As our state politicians pat themselves on the back for instituting some meaningful recent reforms, they should be embarrassed about neglecting practical district lines that only give the ruling party an advantage, not the people who elected them.
More importantly, voters need to wake up, smell the redistricting rip-off and send a clear-cut message when they go to the polls in November: “We’re tired of partisan bickering and won’t stand for distorted gerrymandering anymore!”