Last week, New York's Independent Redistricting Commission, the body in charge of drawing new legislative lines, submitted two competing sets of maps to the state legislature after its Republican and Democratic appointees failed to reach agreement.
Monday, the state Senate and Assembly voted overwhelmingly to reject both proposals, sending the commission back to the drawing board.
“I think there was a general consensus that communities of interest could be better represented,” said state Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens. “There were some technical flaws with some of it that ran afoul of some of our more arcane constitutional provisions here in New York.”
Groups advocating for better minority representation were also dissatisfied with the maps. That includes APA Voice, an advocacy group for Asian Pacific Americans. “We are extremely disappointed by the redistricting process, but we are not surprised,” said Elizabeth OuYang, coordinator of the group’s redistricting task force.
The process could end up further politicized. The independent commission now has 15 days to submit revised plans, but the Democratic-controlled legislature could at that point reject the second proposal and draw its own maps.
Former state Senator Jack Martins, vice chair of the Independent Redistricting Commission and a Republican appointee, said members were provided no reason for the legislature’s no vote.
“The legislature will do whatever the legislature is going to do,” Martins said. “But at the end of the day, it’s our responsibility to put a product before the legislature. And we’re prepared to do just that.”
Much of the focus is on Congressional swing districts. The only such district in the city is District 11, which covers Staten Island and parts of South Brooklyn and could be redrawn to capture Brooklyn neighborhoods that lean more heavily Democratic.
Steve Romalewski directs the mapping service at the Center for Urban Research at CUNY’s Graduate Center, and has meticulously catalogued the commission’s proposed maps. But he knows Democratic state lawmakers could disregard them entirely.
“The legislature could just be posturing,” he said. "And they would maybe reject whatever the commission gives to them, because the legislature wants to draw its own maps.”
Senator Gianaris, who would help lead any such effort as co-chair of the state’s Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, says Democrats are barred by law from engaging in gerrymandering, the skewing of district lines for political gain. But with Republican-controlled legislatures across the country doing just that, many Democrats nationally see an opportunity in New York to gain seats.
“We’re not allowed in New York to consider partisan considerations or incumbent protection reasons for drawing our lines,” Gianaris said. “That being said, we are certainly conscious of the national implications of what we’re doing, of what’s going on in other states. And we will do our best to do things fairly and in the best interest of the nation.”
Lawmakers are up against a tight timeline: Because primaries take place in June, new district lines must be settled on by early February.