2002-05-08 / Front Page

Pataki Redistrict Plan Threatens Maloney;

Courts Appoint Master To Draw Congress Lines
by john toscano

Pataki Redistrict Plan Threatens Maloney;

Courts Appoint Master To Draw Congress Lines

by john toscano

Congressmember Carolyn Maloney might face problems getting re-elected under a redistricting plan drawn up by Governor George Pataki, but all other Queens Congressmembers would fare quite well under the proposal, reported in newspapers last week.

Meanwhile, both houses of the state legislature appear nowhere near drawing up a reapportionment plan, so there's serious talk of delaying the start of gathering nominating petitions or lowering the number required to get on the ballot. In some quarters it is even suggested the September 10 primary might have to be postponed.

However, with no sign that the state legislature will complete redrawing the New York Congressional lines in time for the start of the election year on June 4, a three-judge federal panel has appointed a special master to create the new districts.

The special master, former federal court Judge Frederick B. Lacey, was appointed April 26 and ordered to complete his work and present it to the court by this Friday. That gave Lacey 15 days to draw up the 29 districts, two fewer than at present, because the state's loss of population in the 2000 Census caused it to lose two seats.

Discussing the confused election picture last week, Joseph L. Gentili, a city Board of Elections member, said, "We can't make that June 4 date." June 4 is the day designated to start collecting petitions under the current election calender. "They are going to have to truncate the petition period and lower the signature requirement."

But state Senator Serphin Maltese (R–C, Middle Village), chairman of the Elections Committee, responded, "We're not quite ready to foreclose the possibility of making the June 4 date. But if we get to the end of this week without a deal—and it seems like we probably will—then I would say it's impossible."

Meanwhile, reports from the legislature in Albany say state senate Republicans are working on a plan but Assembly Democrats are not.

Pataki's plan, which he distributed among some Congressmembers last week, in Washington has raised serious concerns among minority representatives from New York City.

Under Pataki's proposed plan, Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) and her neighboring lawmaker, Congressmember Jerrold Nadler (D–Manhattan), would be thrown into a new district. If they chose, they could run against each other for the new seat.

Also under the plan, Congressmember Joseph Crowley (D–Queens/Bronx) would pick up parts of Forest Hills and the Rockaways, sections now in Congressmember Anthony Weiner's Queens/Brooklyn district. Weiner (D), meanwhile, would get an all-Brooklyn district, the report said.

Pataki's plan also brought Congressmember Charles Rangel (D–Harlem) further down into Manhattan white areas and would cause Congressmember Jose Serrano (D–Bronx), a Hispanic, to lose much of his present, safe district.

But now that the federal court has thrust itself into the picture, the legislature and the governor appear to have given up any opportunity to have close control over the highly politically sensitive exercise. The process this year was an especially thorny one because while Republicans were willing to settle for each party accepting the loss of a seat as a compromise, Democrats felt upstate population losses dictated that both the seats to be lost should come from that area, presently represented by Republicans.

The federal court got into the act when the city and state election boards advised the judges that time was running out, with the start of circulating nominating petitions set for June 4.

According to a New York Times report on April 27 dealing with the appointment of the special master the judges wrote: It is therefore necessary for this court to prepare for the possibility that this court will be required to adopt an appropriate redistricting plan."

Reports out of Albany say the Republicans in the Senate are already working on their new congressional lines and that they're expected to be completed in about a week. To achieve the goal of having each party lose a seat, this plan focuses on the north Bronx and Westchester and further upstate to make the line changes they believe would accomplish their goal.

But Assembly Democrats reportedly haven't started the process of creating new lines. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, according to one source, is content to have the special master do the job.

At this point, it would seem to make no sense for the state legislature and the governor to rush through a plan. Any such plan would have to be approved by the federal courts to assure it complies with the Voting Rights Act, which would further delay completion of the process.

It would make more sense for the Albany leaders to stay out of the issue and let the special master submit his plan, observers say. They add that this could be a good sign for the Democrats because the Republicans should have to lose the two seats the state is forced to give up because the population losses were upstate in Republican areas.

Locally, a plan drawn up by a special master would likely mean that Queens' Congressional representatives would face no threats to getting safe districts and would therefore likely win re-election.

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