The Real Story Behind Queens Redistricting

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The gerrymandering of Queens State Assembly, State Senate and soon to be released Congressional district boundaries based upon the 2010 census is no surprise for those of us who observe our Albany state legislature.    Democratic State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican State Senate Majority leader Dean Skelos continue this practice going back generations.  Based upon the State Board of Elections registration figures as of November 1, 2011 — New York continues to evolve into an overwhelming Democratic bastion.  Consider that there are 5,660,246 Democrats versus 2,824,680 Republicans, 2,325,786 unaffiliated and 434,752 Independence Party registered voters.  Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2,835,568.  Ditto for Queens with 705,121 Democrats versus 136,140 Republicans along with 3,018 Conservatives, 26,723 Independence, 1,106 Green and 205,570 unaffaliated voters. The numbers just don’t afford Republicans the opportunity to gerrymander any districts in Queens.

Only Skelos, with a slim one vote margin, is nervous about the future of his caucus.  There are just not enough registered Republicans left to gerrymander a majority of Senate seats in his favor.  The proposed State Assembly, Senate and  future Congressional district lines look like a jigsaw puzzle.

Every 10 years, after the census, district lines have to be redrawn.  Past Republican  Senate majority leaders, the late Warren Anderson, Ralph Marino, and Joe Bruno cut deals with past Democratic Assembly Speakers Stanley Steingut, Stanley Fink, Mel Miller, Saul Weprin and Silver. These political back room arrangements were a quid pro quo deal preserving the status quo. Each gave the other unlimited freedom to protect and expand their respective majorities in each legislative house they controlled.

Only Queens Democratic State Assemblymember David Weprin was unhappy with the new proposed district lines.  One wonders why it was not  Weprin to be the Democratic Party candidate for the 9th Congressional District instead of fellow Albany State Assemblymember Rory Lancman.  Weprin spent $1.4 million dollars last summer in a losing effort to Republican Congressmember Bob Turner.  He might have been able to build on his name recognition for another try. Weprin certainly could have raised over $1 million from his well developed list of Pay for Play campaign contributors.  They have made numerous donations totaling several million dollars to his campaigns for various public offices since 2001.

Have Queens County Democratic boss Congressmember Joe Crowley, the Queens County Democratic Party Executive Committee and State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver all lost confidence in Weprin?  Is this based on former NYC Councilmember and current State Assemblymember Weprin’s long losing streak outside the comfortable confines of both the 24th State Assembly and 23rd New York City Council districts?  This includes losses for NYC Council Speaker in 2001 & 2005, State Comptroller in 2006, City Comptroller in 2009 and 2011 9th Congressional District Special Elections.

It is noteworthy that neither Crowley or Silver lifted a finger to help Weprin protect his district.  He is the only member of the Queens County Democratic Party State Assembly delegation to complain about the new district lines they have inherited.  Remember it is Silver’s staff appointees to the redistricting commission who could have intervened on Weprins behalf but elected not to.  2012 could be the twilight of David Weprin’s political career. Time will tell.

After the 1982 reapportionment, Democrats eliminated the districts of Queens GOP Assemblymembers Rosemary Gunning, John LoPresto, John Flack, Al DelliBovi and John Esposito.

Doug Prescott briefly held a seat in Bayside in the 1990s but eventually lost–leaving NYC with two out of sixty one Assemblymembers – both elected from Staten Island.

Despite overwhelming Democratic Party enrollment in Queens County, creative gerrymandering by the GOP controlled Senate in 1980, 1990 and 2000 continued to preserve the seats of both Republican Senators Serphin Maltese and Frank Padavan.  Eventually Democrats beat Maltese in 2008 with Councilmember Addabbo and Padavan in 2010 with Councilmember Avella.

Up until the 1970 reapportionment, Queens Congressional districts were actually 100 percent within the borough. Both Padavan and Maltese allowed Democrats to gerrymander these Congressional Districts every ten years from 1980 forward by extending individual seats into other counties.  This includes 5th CD Gary Ackerman represents Queens/Nassau; 6th CD Gregory Meeks Queens; 7th CD Joseph Crowley Queens/Bronx; 9th CD Bob Turner formerly Anthony Weiner Queens/Kings; 12th CD Nydia Velazquez Queens/Manhattan/Kings and 14th CD Carolyn Maloney Queens/Manhattan.

Before the surprise election of Bob Turner, the last Republican Congressmember from Queens was Seymour Halperin who after the 1972 reapportionment declined to run against Democrat Lester Wolff of Great Neck when both were merged into one Queens/Nassau district. In 1982, GOP Congressmember John LeBoutellier briefly recaptured this seat for one term.

The last Republican  Queens Borough President was James A. Lundy who served from 1952-1957. Nat Hentel was the last GOP District Attorney appointed interim district attorney by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in January 1966, replacing Frank D. O’Connor, who had been elected president of the City Council. In November, 1966 running on both the Republican and Liberal party lines, he was defeated by Democratic State Senator Thomas J. Mackell.

Crossover Democrats, who voted for former Presidents Reagan and Bush Senior in the 1980s, former Senator D’Amato in 1980 – 1998; former Governor Pataki in 1994 – 2002, former Mayor Giuliani in the 1990s along with Mayor Bloomberg in 2001, 2005 and 2009 continue to move out of town, retire out of state or succumb to old age. There has been no successful GOP outreach to new Caribbean, Hispanic, Asian, other immigrant groups or middle class African Americans. Once the GOP loses any incumbent City Council, State Assembly, State Senator or Congressional representative, they are never able to reclaim the district.

Everyone knows that Speaker Silver rules the Assembly with an iron hand. He controls whose bills come out of committee to a full vote, lulus for chairing committees, funding for member-item pork barrel projects, staffing, mailings and district office budgets. Republican Senate majority leader Skelos has similar powers in his chamber.  As two of the infamous “Three Men In the Room”,  an honest reapportionment and election of a new Speaker and Senate majority leader. Real reform can only come to Albany with honest competitive elections as supported by former NYC Mayor Ed Koch and his New York Uprising movement.