Judge Pressures Legislators On Congressional Districts

March 6, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Michael Gormley
Associated Press

ALBANY — A state judge is pressuring New York’s legislature to agree on a redistricting proposal for Congress or face imposition of her own proposal, which would eliminate a Democrat’s seat in the Hudson Valley and Republican’s seat in Queens and Brooklyn.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Tuesday that the proposal provides a template and impetus for a deal between the Assembly’s Democratic majority and Senate’s Republican majority that would avoid a court-ordered plan.

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U.S. Magistrate Roanne Mann’s proposal, released ahead of schedule on Tuesday, would eliminate the Hudson Valley’s current 22nd District represented by Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey, who is retiring.

She also proposes to eliminate Republican Rep. Bob Turner’s 9th District in Queens and Brooklyn. Turner won the seat in a special election in September to replace Anthony Weiner, a one-time rising Democratic star who resigned after admitting he sent lewd text messages and photos of himself to women.

Turner's district would be absorbed by Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Queens Democrat, under the proposal.

Eliminating those districts would take care of the requirement to eliminate two of New York’s 27 congressional seats because of population changes in the last census.

Significant changes in congressional district boundaries were proposed from Long Island to western New York, where longtime incumbents would face off under the judge’s proposal.

Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman, who now represents a district mostly in Queens that includes parts of Nassau County on Long Island, finds himself in Democratic Sen. Steve Israel's Long Island district. But Ackerman issued a statement yesterday eyeing a new congressional district in the judge's proposal centered in Queens.

Ackerman noted that the new 6th District was “where I grew up, went to public school and college, and started my family and my business. It contains my political base.”

Some congressional incumbents statewide can’t so easily escape a showdown with a colleague under the judge’s proposal.

For example, Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo would face Democratic Rep. Kathleen Hochul of suburban Amherst in a new district that would include Buffalo and Niagara Falls, according to The Buffalo News. Hochul could, however, choose to seek office again in a nearby, but heavily Republican suburban-rural district.

Redistricting happens every 10 years to redraw state and congressional election district boundaries using updated census data and in accordance with voting rights acts to ensure minorities have a voice.

The Senate’s Republican majority and the Assembly’s Democratic majority can still agree on a plan before March 15 to avoid having the judge impose the lines. The legislature’s majorities are also trying to negotiate a plan for state legislative lines to avoid court intervention.

Good-government groups have long criticized the redistricting process as a way for the majorities to expand their power and protect incumbents. For voters, new lines can thrust them into a district dominated by one power and force incumbents of minority parties to face each other in combined districts.

"We continue to believe that a bipartisan solution can be reached, and that the new congressional lines will ultimately be adopted through the normal legislative process," said Scott Reif, spokesman for the Senate's GOP majority.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said a negotiated deal with the Senate is always preferred.

"I think the congressional lines got a lot clearer today and we have to re-evaluate what happens," said Silver, a Manhattan Democrat. "I think what the judge did was give us the impetus, or the template, to now make the necessary deals."

He said he expects state legislative district lines to be released by next week.

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