Newly-drawn district lines may pit Senate Democrats against one another in a political dogfight.
Under the proposed plan, which was designed by the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) — made up largely of Republican senators due to their current control of the chamber — Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Chair Michael Gianaris would face off with Senator Jose Peralta for the right to represent a single, heavily Hispanic district.
“With this brazenly political proposal, Senate Republicans have done more to hurt the cause of fair and independent redistricting in one day than advocates like myself have done to advance the cause after years of advocacy,” Gianaris said. “Today, Senate Republicans return us to the days when Albany was the most dysfunctional capital in the nation by bringing Tom DeLay’s brand of politics to New York. The people of this state will not stand for it, and neither should we.”
Peralta echoed his senatorial partner and potential rival by calling the new lines “egregious.”
“This is a case of petty, election-year politics as arrogant as it is obvious,” Peralta said. “The pledges to redistricting reform by Republicans clearly are not worth the ink used to sign them. If they have at least minimal respect for voters, Republicans will spare New Yorkers further hypocrisy and keep to themselves ridiculous claims that their bold-faced power grab was done in the name of minority enfranchisement.”
Longtime Senator Toby Ann Stavisky would also be matched against Senator Tony Avella — who assumed office in 2011 — sparking speculation that the GOP’s goal is to maintain its slender majority in the Senate by eliminating a number of incumbent Democrats.
The GOP lines also create the Senate’s first Asian-majority district in Flushing. The plan would expand the Senate to 63 members by creating a new seat in a reportedly Republican-dominated area outside of Albany, as well.
“We believe our plan is fair, legal and it protects minority voting interests,” said Scott Reif, a spokesperson for the Senate GOP and LATFOR. “We are very proud of the fact that we create the first Asian-American majority district in Queens centered in Flushing. We also maintain or strengthen every single African-American and Hispanic district in the city. This plan is based on population shifts which occurred over the last 10 years. There are a number of incumbents who are put together in the same district, but this is not based on politics. It is based on demographics and actions that the task force took are to protect minority voting rights.”
According to Reif, nine public hearings will be held throughout the state, during which the public can offer feedback on the plan. LATFOR will hold a hearing for Queens on Tuesday, February 7 at 3 p.m. in Room 213 of Queens Borough Hall, located at 120-55 Queens Boulevard in Kew Gardens.
Peralta, who believes there should be an independent process and commission drawing the lines, believes the notion that the plan was designed to unite communities is preposterous.
“Republicans say it is about brining communities together, but they divided the LeFrak buildings into two districts,” said the senator. “They took the southern part of my district in Elmhurst, which is highly Asian, and they divided it into two districts. The gerrymandering is hurting people because it dilutes the power of the vote. It dilutes the ability for people to come out and choose a candidate that matches their needs.”
Various community groups have expressed outrage over the district map, due to the lines’ dissonant effects on their neighborhoods.
The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA) has strongly objected the plan, which divides the neighborhood among three different senators.
“LATFOR’s decision to split up a one-square-mile neighborhood among three different senators is bewildering and has no basis in the character, demographics or needs of our community,” said Alexander Blenkinsopp, WRBA’s communications director. “When it comes to the Senate lines, the people of Woodhaven are being treated as pawns in Albany’s gerrymandering games.”
According to published reports, Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to veto the plan, which he deems partisan.
Repeated attempts to contact the governor’s office went unreturned.