Tag Archives: district lines

Injunction denied, new district lines are final


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

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Following the failure of a preliminary injunction against the state legislative map, no pencils can erase and redraw district lines.

The injunction, which was requested by Democrats, was recently rejected by a judge – finalizing the lines for the upcoming State Senate and Assembly elections due to the lack of time remaining for a trial to intervene before the commencement of primary season.

Despite the court’s verdict, Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) Chair Michael Gianaris says Democrats will continue their fight in court to remove the lines in time for the next election, which occurs in 2014.

“Unfortunately, the delay tactics of the Senate Republicans were effective and the courts said they simply don’t have enough time to make a decision before the political process takes place this year, and they were unwilling to postpone the election season,” Gianaris said. “They will continue hearing the case on the normal court schedule, which will extend beyond this election. The goal is to retake the majority for the Democrats under these badly gerrymandered lines and continue to pursue the case in court so we end up with a fair map at the end of the day.”

The Senate Democrats were hoping to eliminate the maps, drawn 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.

Many believe LATFOR’s maps were drawn to prevent Democrats from retaking control of the chamber.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Democrats did not expect to have their preliminary injunction granted. The primary gripe among Democrats was the creation of the 63rd District seat, which was viewed as a political tactic to keep Republicans in power, according to the source.

“I’m disappointed that it’s happened this way and the courts decided that the 63rd [District] will stay for this election,” said Senator Jose Peralta. “But the fight is not over. With myself, Senator Gianaris and the Democratic conference, we are going to be pushing to make sure we eliminate that seat come next election season.”

Peralta went on to say that polls are indicating the public wants a Democratic majority in the Senate. The senator believes Democrats, who retook the chamber in 2008 after over 40 years of Republican control, are “much more prepared this time around to take back the majority.”

Democrats have now run out of options after the lawsuit arguing the constitutionality of the extra State Senate seat was also rebuffed and the federal government provided preclearance to the map under the Voting Rights Act.

“Yesterday, the federal three-judge panel denied the motion for a preliminary injunction, and ordered the 2012 Senate elections to proceed under the lines enacted by the Legislature,” said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. “The decision comes just two weeks after the New York Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that our redistricting plan complied with the State Constitution and less than a month since we received preclearance from the Obama administration’s Department of Justice. I am extremely pleased with this decision, and it ensures the state can administer an orderly and fair election this fall.”

 

Judge redraws Congressional district lines


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

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The failure of the State Legislature has left a panel of federal judges with the final decision on district lines.

Due to the state government’s inability to come to an agreement on Congressional redistricting, the panel imposed a court-drawn, revised map on March 19.

The court’s ruling reduces the number of districts from 29 to 27 as a result of the 2010 Census. The map – which is very similar to the one originally drafted by the panel-appointed magistrate, Roanne Mann – breaks and dissolves the Brooklyn and Queens territory currently represented by Republican Congressmember Bob Turner into several surrounding districts. Congressmember Maurice Hinchey – a Democrat who plans to retire at the end of his current term – has also had his Hudson Valley district eliminated.

New York was among the last states in the country to deal with redistricting, forcing the court to tackle the task.

“Faced yet again with a dysfunctional state legislature, the federal judiciary in New York must now undertake the ‘unwelcome obligation’ of creating a plan redrawing the State’s electoral districts for the United States Congress,” Mann said.

The panel, composed of Dora Irizarry of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn and Gerard Lynch and Reena Raggi of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, were obligated to act with a sense of urgency in order to complete the lines by March 20 – the first day candidates for Congress can collect signatures to qualify for a position on the primary ballot. The primary was previously moved up to June 26 in order to ensure residents serving overseas in the military had adequate time to vote by mail.

“In prior redistricting challenges, New York has avoided such a wholesale transfer of state legislative power to the federal courts through last-minute enactments of new redistricting plans,” the panel wrote. “In this case, however, New York has been willing to let even the last minute pass and to abdicate the whole of its redistricting power to a reluctant federal court.”

Richard Mancino and Daniel Burstein, the attorneys who represented a group of civic leaders in a lawsuit aimed at urging the federal courts to take control of redistricting, praised the panel’s decision.

“Through this well-reasoned decision, the court has adeptly responded to the exigent circumstances caused by the Legislature’s failure to enact its own congressional redistricting plan,” said the lawyers. “Our clients wish that an independent redistricting commission could have drawn these districts, but we are grateful that the independent judiciary stepped in to fill this void and create its own principled plan.”

As part of the plan, a large portion of Turner’s territory will be absorbed by the new Sixth Congressional District – which has drawn interest from a number of elected officials since Congressmember Gary Ackerman’s stunning announcement that he will not seek a 16th term in office.

Assemblymembers Grace Meng and Rory Lancman and Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley have already come forward and announced their intentions to run for Ackerman’s seat. Meng was selected as the nominee of the Queens Democratic Party.

Turner has abandoned his hopes of Congressional re-election and opted to seek both the Republican and Conservative nomination in hopes of defeating Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

The court redrew only the Congressional district maps, however, as the Legislature was able to agree upon Senate and Assembly boundaries. The maps drawn the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) – made up largely of Republican senators – were approved and signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on March 14, along with a bill creating a bipartisan commission to draw district lines in 2022. The new lines must still be approved by the Justice Department to ensure they do not disenfranchise minority voters.

New district lines ‘as bad’ as before


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Recent revisions to district lines have done little to darn the disharmony between Republicans and Democrats.

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 — released its updated district maps on March 12, angering Democrats due to the miniscule modifications made over the past month.

The new lines, which no longer couple the districts of Senators Michael Gianaris and Jose Peralta, still combine the regions of Senators Tony Avella and Toby Ann Stavisky. Slight changes were also made to the first-ever Asian American majority district created in the initial maps.

Despite their districts no longer being threatened, both Gianaris and Peralta have spoken out against the maps and are hopeful Governor Andrew Cuomo follows through on his pledge to veto any partisan proposals.

“The lines have barely changed at all,” said Gianaris, who called the pairing of himself and Peralta a harassment tactic. “The first proposal is the worst gerrymandering in the history of New York State, and the second proposal is 98 percent as bad. The real problem is the way they are dividing communities around the state and that is what has yet to be fixed. The best hope now is for the governor to veto the lines and let the court do it fairly.”

Frank Sobrino, a spokesperson for Peralta, says the situation is “bigger” than the two senators, and the new lines do not provide any progress from the initial maps, which were considered to be “blatantly partisan.”

“I want the governor to follow up on his commitment to veto these lines,” Peralta said.

Scott Reif, spokesperson for the Senate GOP and LATFOR, says he expects the maps to be approved by both the Senate and Assembly.

“We expect these to be the final lines for the Senate and Assembly,” Reif said. “We held nine additional public hearings [across the state] and we made changes from what we were hearing from different communities.”

Along with the updated maps, LATFOR also introduced legislation that would create a bipartisan commission to draw district lines, a measure many politicians have been calling for. Based on the bill, the commission would be composed of 10 members — two from each party from both the Senate and Assembly and an additional two members chosen by the initial eight.

If approved, the commission would be in charge of deciding district lines the next time they are up for revision in a decade — a length of time deemed unacceptable by many Democrats.

“That’s 10 years from now,” Sobrino said. “Each and every single Republican signed a pledge before they ran last time supporting an independent process. They didn’t say they were going to fix the situation 10 years from now. They said they were going to fix it now.”

Will Turner’s district disappear?


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

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A federal magistrate’s recent re-drawing of state congressional lines leaves Congressmember Bob Turner as the odd man out.

Magistrate Roanne Mann’s revised maps released on March 6 would eliminate Turner’s Brooklyn-Queens district and may reportedly force him to run for the same seat belonging to Congressmember Gregory Meeks in a Democratic and heavily African-American area.

According to published reports, State Senate GOP officials fought to protect Turner while Assembly Democrats pushed for his district to be eliminated.

“The redistricting plan introduced today by the Special Master is just another step in the process,” said Turner, who won a Special Election last year to fill the seat of disgraced Congressmember Anthony Weiner. “I am prepared to run in whatever district I reside in once the final lines are adopted.”

Mann was appointed by a panel of three federal judges to create a redistricting plan eliminating two of the state’s 29 congressional seats after legislative leaders were unable to come to an agreement. The elimination of the seats was reportedly mandatory due to national population shifts over the past decade.

The magistrate’s proposed map is not final however, as her draft is expected to boost talks between state legislative leaders who are now aware of the court’s direction.

If the legislators are unable to pass their own plan by March 12, Mann’s map will become final, due to the need for congressional candidates to choose what district they will run in before they begin circulating nominating petitions on March 20.

Congressmember Gary Ackerman has already come forward and announced he plans to run for re-election in the new Sixth Congressional District should the magistrate’s lines become final.

“The new Sixth Congressional District is a fantastic district in Queens where I grew up, went to public school and college, and started my family and my business,” Ackerman said. “It contains my political base and longtime roots, and I have had the privilege of representing approximately 90 percent of it during my 34 years in the State Senate and U.S. Congress.”

Assemblymember Rory Lancman, who represents the 25th Assembly District, has also stated he “looks forward to run for Congress when the lines are finalized.”

Redistricting battle: Court steps in


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Inaction by lawmakers has prompted a federal judge to recommend court intervention in New York’s redistricting process.

Judge Dora Irizarry said on February 13 that federal courts should be placed in charge of ensuring the state’s election process for Senate, Assembly and Congressional districts adheres to state and federal law, and suggested a special master be appointed to redraw district lines.

Irizarry, a judge in the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, cited the “current state of inaction” in redrawing the lines and the upcoming Congressional primaries — slated to begin June 26 — as grounds for her reasoning.

Judge Gary Sharpe complicated matters on January 27 by ruling that primary elections for Congressional seats be moved up from September to June in order to allow military voters sufficient time to receive absentee ballots for the general election.

Irizarry also referenced instances of court interference which have expedited the process previously.

In her ruling, the judge noted, “In 1992 and 2002, the New York State Legislature acted only after there was judicial intervention.”

Irizarry’s decision came in response to a lawsuit filed on November 17 by a group of six civic leaders, calling for a special master to be given authority over the mapping.

Daniel Burstein, who represents the plaintiffs along with Richard Mancino, believes the ruling is a “giant step forward in our efforts.”

“The ruling recognized that time has run out for the New York Legislature to draw district lines in time for the primary elections and period for petitioning, which begins in March,” Burstein said. “When the Legislature fails to act in a timely manner, then it is up to the courts to protect the voters of the state.”

Due to the decision, a three judge panel, composed of Irizarry and Judges Reena Raggi and Gerard Lynch, has been appointed by the Chief Judge of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to make a final verdict. If a majority of the panel believes in the need for a special master, one will be appointed to draw the lines — after which the map will require approval from the court.

“Given Judge Irizarry’s recommendation, we do anticipate that a special master will be appointed,” said Burstein.

The New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), which drew up the current controversial lines, is holding public hearings across the state. Their maps, which would eliminate a number of incumbent senatorial Democrats, have been criticized by numerous politicians and good-government groups for being politically partisan.

Governor Andrew Cuomo also intends to veto the lines, according to spokesperson Matt Wing.

“At first glance, these lines are simply unacceptable and would be vetoed by the governor.”

Senate Redistricting plan is divisive


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

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.

Eastern Queens joining together to be less divided


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Eastern Queens is uniting in a fight to make district lines dividing the community disappear.

A group of civic associations, local leaders and concerned residents from Glen Oaks, Floral Park, New Hyde Park, Bellerose and Queens Village have joined forces to form Eastern Queens United, a coalition demanding their neighborhoods be rejoined in the same congressional and assembly districts.

“We need district lines that will unite us, not divide us,” said Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village. “Regardless of color, nationality, religion or cultural identity, we all care about our families, our schools, our jobs, our safety and our community. This is the glue of commonality that keeps us together.”

Eastern Queens United is urging the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) to undo what the group calls the “gerrymandering” of the neighborhoods between Assembly Districts 24,26 and 33 and unite the area into a single district. The coalition also wants the division of the community between Congressional Districts 5 and 6 to be resolved. The neighborhoods are currently united in a single state Senate and city council district.

“We are a single ‘community of interest’ that needs to stay united in all legislative districts,” said Ali Najmi, an attorney, lead organizer and counsel to Eastern Queens United. “LATFOR must not divide us.”

To gather supporters for their cause, Eastern Queens United is planning a community meeting and rally in the near future.

The group argues that the dividing lines are detrimental to the community, separating residents and preventing them from improving the standard of living in the neighborhoods.

“For those of us on the front lines fighting for quality-of-life issues, reduced property taxes and other issues that affect us every day, we know how important these district lines are,” said Angela Augugliaro, president of Queens Colony Civic Association. “We have a unique community that can only have its interest served if we are united within the same legislative districts.”

LATFOR will make recommendations to the New York State Legislature regarding district lines early next year, after which its proposal must be voted upon and approved by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The neighborhoods were separated roughly 10 years ago, and Friedrich says if the group is unable to foster change, the communities will remain divided for another decade. “We want to make sure they don’t do to us what they did 10 years ago,” he said. “These lines were drawn for political considerations only, and not for what is best for the community. District lines run right through some communities, which is confusing and detrimental to the neighborhood. We will not accept district lines that slice and dice us as if we are on some legislative committee’s chopping block.”