Gianaris Gets Support In Redistrict Effort
The campaign by Assemblymember Michael Gianaris to reform the New York state legislative redistricting process got a boost last week when several civic groups issued a report which basically agrees with Gianaris' plan to transfer the authority to draw up new district lines from the state legislature to a nonpartisan, independent agency.
Gianaris (D-Astoria) said the report is "right on the mark", and adds, "The current system leaves us [the state legislature] open to all kinds of criticism."
The 36-year-old, two-term lawmaker, who has made redistricting reform one of his top legislative priorities introduced legislation last year and again in this session to establish an independent redistricting commission that would be authorized to redraw district lines, taking that power away from the state legislature.
Under the present setup, Democrats draw up the new lines for the Assembly to assure their continued control of that body, while Republicans do the same thing for the senate, which they control.
Gianaris acknowledges he faces an uphill fight against the entrenched powers.
"I think I have a fair amount of convincing to do," he says. "But if we make the election process fairer, it's really good politics, good for the people and good for elected officials."
He's making progress. This year, he convinced 30 of his Assembly colleagues to co-sponsor his bill. He's done so, in part, by telling them that Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who's a strong favorite to become the state's next governor, has promised to veto any redistricting plan which comes before him while he's the governor "if it's done for political purposes."
Pointing to his new-found 30 sponsors and his agreement with Spitzer on this issue, Gianaris says, "With continued attention and momentum, I remain hopeful that we will see progress on this issue in time for the next redistricting in 2012."
The report backing up the contentions made by Gianaris in his legislation showed one way that both Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans achieve their goals is by manipulating the size of districts to fit their individual goals.
In one report, Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), one of the groups that issued the report, said playing around with district sizes is legal, but not fair.
Other groups joining in issuing the report were the Citizens Union, Common Cause/N.Y. and the League of Women Voters. All support Gianaris' bill.
Also keeping Gianaris busy these days, besides his redistricting bill and the ongoing negotiating over the 2006-07 budget, is directing the fundraising efforts for Democrats throughout the state. As finance chairman of the State Democratic Party, he has overseen the collection of over $1 million thus far to be used to help elect party candidates in the fall elections.
BOOST FROM TIME MAG: United States Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton,
who has accumulated a $20 million campaign chest in her almost certain runaway re-election campaign, received another major boost last week when Time Magazine named her and five Senate colleagues as "emerging forces in the world's greatest deliberative body."
The shared title, of course, also buttresses the 58-year-old pol's 2008 presidential ambitions.
The news magazine notes that while the former First Lady's record may be controversial, in her six short years as New York State's junior senator she has earned respect from both parties."
The magazine also points out: "Assigned to the Armed Services Committee, she has mastered issues like how to retain Guard and Reserve troops, pushed through legislation educating military families on insurance scams and funded measures to help supply flu vaccine.
"She has also leveraged her national clout to spotlight important terrorism issues with narrow followings-like the vulnerability of nuclear plants."
The other five senators named with Clinton were Barack Obama, the young Black Illinois Democrat; Lindsey Graham, Republican, South Carolina; John E. Sununu, Republican, New Hampshire, who at 41 is the youngest Senator and son of a former White House chief of staff, and Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat.
Officially opening her Senate campaign last week, Clinton was endorsed by two New York City firefighters unions which praised her successful efforts in getting federal funds for them, for city security operations and for firefighters' healthcare problems associated with their 9/11 efforts, which took 343 of their colleagues' lives.
Clinton appears to be facing minimal opposition from Republican challengers John Spencer, former mayor of Yonkers, and Kathleen Troia McFarland, a woman from the East Side of Manhattan, who served in the Reagan Administration.
CROWLEY HOSTS IMMIGRATION FORUM: Congressmember Joseph Crowley (D-Queens/The Bronx) met with his District Immigration Advisory Committee in Jackson Heights to update local immigrant activists on joint Senate and House reform proposals.
Congress came back into session yesterday and will in the next few days continue the debate over the thorny issue of immigration reform legislation. Crowley said he supports a broad-based immigration enforcement coupled with a temporary guest worker program allowing a pathway to citizenship.
That position is also backed by Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who will conduct hearings on the volatile immigration issue.
WELD, FASO GIVE POSITIONS ON IMMIGRANTS: Republican gubernatorial hopefuls John Faso and William Weld took similar positions on the immigration issue in appearances before different Hispanic groups last week.
Weld told the Republican Hispanic National Assembly in Yonkers he supports creating a guest worker program for undocumented immigrants. "It's good for the economy and it's good for New York," the former Massachusetts governor said.
Faso stated to the N.Y. Hispanic Ministers' Clergy Organization that he favors legalizing undocumented immigrants who don't have criminal records in order to create a process whereby those who work and those who pay taxes can legalize their existence here.
CHALLENGES EMBATTLED LAWMAKER: The recent spate of bad headlines and charges of mistreating staff members has brought on a possible Democratic primary challenge to state Senator Ada L. Smith from Elizabeth Bishop-Goldsmith, a founder of the civic group Mothers Against Guns.
Smith's district in Southeast Queens is heavily Democratic, so a victory in the primary is tantamount to victory in the general election.
Smith was accused recently of throwing coffee in the face of a staff member and was charged with third degree assault. In 2004, she was convicted of speeding through a security checkpoint at an Albany garage. Democrats in the senate are studying the charges and may take action against her.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that Democratic leaders in Smith's predominantly black district are becoming impatient with her reported behavior which may weaken support for the nine-term veteran. She has nevertheless said she is determined to seek re-election.