Fed ‘Master’ To Draw Up New Congress Lines By Mar. 12
Bypassing the New York state legislature, on Monday a federal judge in Brooklyn was selected to draw new congressional lines for the state to be used in next November’s elections. Pursuant to an order from the Chief Justice of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Magistrate Roanne Mann was designated as a special master to draw up the new congressional district lines by March 12, according to a story in yesterday’s New York Daily News.
The urgency implied by the selection of Magistrate Mann is that candidate petitioning for the congressional races is set to begin on March 20. Mann will have to move quickly to get the new congressional maps in place by then, and will rely on the most current census data to draw up the lines. According to the News story, she will be assisted by experts including Columbia University Law Professor Nathaniel Persily.
The order by the U.S. Court of Appeals came down in response to a lawsuit filed last year in Brooklyn Federal Court. The action contends the state legislature, which is empowered to draw up new congressional and legislative lines has not yet issued the new maps.
In court yesterday were representatives of Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. None hand any comment.
Possibly the legislative leaders can rush to get their new lines passed by both houses and sent to the governor for his signature. But Cuomo has vowed to veto the legislature’s proposed new lines, so it’s problematic whether they can succeed in stopping Magistrate Mann’s work.
LEGISLATORS MISS REMAPPING DEADLINE AS FED COURT TAKEOVER MOVES FORWARD: Thursday was supposed to be the day that the new legislative maps drawn up by Assembly Democrats and senate Republicans were to be approved and ready for this year’s state legislative and congressional elections.
But the lawmakers will not meet that March 1 deadline, leaving the redistricting process in shambles and increasingly more vulnerable to being taken over by an appointed federal master to complete the task.
Even if the state lawmakers complete their job and release the new lines on schedule, there’s every reason to believe that Governor Andrew Cuomo would be ready to keep his promise to veto them. Moreover, there would be no chance that Senate Republicans could overturn the veto because the Democratic minority there assured the governor last week that they had the votes ready to block any GOP veto override attempt.
Assurances that the legislative remapping would not be ready by Thursday were attributed to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and were reported in two newspapers on Monday.
“There will not be a vote this week— there is no agreement on congressional lines,” Silver was quoted as saying in the Daily News. That same message was contained also in the New York Post and attributed to reliable sources.
Meanwhile, the move by federal judges last week to appoint a master to take over the redrawing of the district lines was the subject of a hearing by a federal magistrate Monday morning.
In the past several weeks as the proposed lines were being completed by both houses in Albany, the governor angrily attacked both plans, saying, “It’s just coarse, base politics and it’s true on all of their fronts. It’s just Albany Capitol theater and, frankly, it’s something I don’t want to engage in,” he was quoted in one story.
Earlier last week, the governor was reportedly still ready to veto the lines, which were being revised, if they weren’t fair to both sides. He also called for both sides to pass a constitutional amendment to assure there would be radical changes by the time the lines come up for change once more.
As for the lack of action on creating new congressional lines, Silver and other Democrats reportedly ran into a roadblock in drawing up new lines for veteran Congressmember Charles Rangel because a Black Manhattan Democratic leader wants to assure it remains a Harlem-centric district after Rangel retires while an Hispanic leader wants to tailor the lines to fit someone from that ethnic group.
Silver also laid the blame for failing to complete congressional lines on senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos because he had not decided which Republican district he wanted eliminated. According to population losses revealed on the most recent census, New York state is forced to lose two congressional seats, one each to be selected by Democrats and Republicans.
There had been some speculation that the Republicans would choose the Queens/Brooklyn seat won last September by Congressmember Bob Turner since he was the last member to occupy a seat. But it was reported last week that Turner showed up in Albany last week and made his case to Skelos for keeping the seat in existence because Turner felt he could win the election to be held in November. Skelos was encouraging, but made no promises.
Several weeks ago, Silver made a strange request regarding the Turner seat: “Keep it open,” said Silver, “and let Turner run for it again, because this time we’ll beat him.” There’s some talk that Assemblymember Rory Lancman (D–Fresh Meadows) has plans to challenge Turner in November if the seat is still open.
Turner, 70, made a believer of Congressmember Peter King, a Republican from Long Island. King said Turner showed a Republican can beat a Democrat in a Democratic stronghold—so give Turner another chance to run for a full term in November.
Turner, who won the support of Brooklyn Jewish leaders in the special election where he defeated Assemblymember David Weprin, has shown Republican leaders in Congress that that voting bloc is still in his corner. It was enough to win promises from GOP Speaker John Boehner and Congressmember Eric Cantor, the powerful House majority leader, that they’ll hold fundraisers for Turner no matter who he runs against.
TURNER MEETS WITH BUSINESS OWNERS: Working in conjunction with the Queens Chamber of Commerce, Congressmember Bob Turner held a small business round table recently with local small business owners in Rego Park. During the breakfast, Turner noted his own personal business background in the television industry and his first-hand knowledge of what it takes to create a business and develop and manage it.
Turner told them, “I understand just how hard it can be to gain access to capital, manage employee benefits and try to expand your business all the while fighting off overly stringent government regulations and overtaxation.”
The meeting’s focus turned to the burden of health care and the expenses it creates for employers and how taxes affect small businesses and prevents them from hiring. To make the point, he cited a recent Gallup/Wells Fargo poll which showed that 85 percent of small businesses are not looking for new workers, while 48 percent said it was due to concerns about healthcare costs and 46 percent said they were worried about new regulations.
Noting low profit margins make hiring difficult because of the economic policies of the Obama administration, Turner stated, “We need to help restore Americans’ confidence in our economy by eliminating uncertainties like those we have seen with Obamacare. Less regulation and lower taxes help all businesses, whether they are just starting up or looking to expand.”
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jack Friedman said Turner’s initiatives and ideas of how federal policy can better help small business were helpful.
“The meeting was useful, thought provoking, and showed the concern and respect the congressmember has for the Chamber, and the importance of the small businesses to the nation’s economy,” Friedman said.
MALONEY, DEMS HEARING ON WOMEN’S HEALTH: Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) stated at a Democratic Steering and Policy Committee hearing on women’s health last week that there must be more women lawmakers on committees where the topic is women’s health.
Addressing an audience which included House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and several other women lawmakers, Maloney declared:
“We all too often in Congress—in state houses—and in the Super PACs that now dominate the debate on the airwaves—that those who would take away a woman’s right to choose; those who compel a a woman to undergo medical procedures she does not want or need; and those who would introduce a bill on the House floor to allow hospitals to deny pregnant women life-saving care—are men.”
Maloney recounted that at a recent House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, a law student at Georgetown University named Sandra Fluke, was blocked from testifying about access to contraception, but instead the committee heard testimony from an allmale panel.
Maloney, who was present at that hearing, said, “When I took my seat for that hearing last week-and I looked out at that panel, I could not help but ask myself: what is wrong with this picture? There was not one woman allowed on that first panel—not one—even though we were all there to talk about access to birth control.
“The only freedom that was being debated was the freedom to tell women that they would not have access to birth control. What’s wrong with that picture?”
ADDABBO SOLUTION TO JOBS LEAVING U.S.: Businesses would be prevented from reaping state tax breaks and other economic benefits when they outsource jobs to other states and countries under a bill introduced by state Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D–Howard Beach).
“We are all cheated when we allow companies to reach into our pockets and spend our tax dollars on jobs that aren’t available to workers here in New York state,” said Addabbo.
Outsourcing hurts our economy and also hurts our employment rolls, he said, but while we can’t prevent outsourcing, “We can make sure that we don’t add insult to injury by letting companies siphon off scarce state tax resources to move forward with their wrong-headed plans.”
Unemployment is still a serious problem in New York state so Addabbo is planning to hold two more job fairs, one tentatively on June 8 at Atlas Park and would be only for veterans; the second, planned for October 19 at Resorts World Aqueduct Racetrack is open to the general public.
P.O. CLOSES WHITESTONE FACILITY, KILLS JOBS: After long consideration, the financially-strapped United States Postal Service had decided to close the Queens processing and Distribution Center in Whitestone, ignoring pleas to remain open and save about 1,000 jobs belonging to Queens residents.
Hugely disappointed were Queens lawmakers, Congressmembers Joseph Crowley (D–Queens/The Bronx) and Gary Ackerman and state Senators Toby Ann Stavisky and Tony Avella, who had led community members and businessmen in the plea to keep the distribution center operating and help keep scarce jobs alive.
The Gazette has already received reactions to the closing from Crowley and Stavisky. Crowley stated he was disappointed that the USPS “put their bottom line above the livelihoods of over 1,000 New Yorkers”.
Stavisky added, “Rather than taking advantage of the time that has been bought for USPS by Congress in a recent moratorium on post office closures, USPS has decided to finalize their plans to shut down this facility. This is like government Jeopardy—the USPS has the answers before we’ve asked the questions.”
Continuing his disappointment on the lost jobs theme, Crowley stated:
“At a time when New Yorkers, like all Americans, are struggling during these difficult times, relocating or possibly laying off the workers at this facility could be devastating to the Queens economy. Closing this facility and cutting services won’t get USPS out of the red, but it will hurt Queens families and businesses.”
Crowley had fought to keep the Whitestone facility open, holding a rally with postal employees and community members, writing a letter to USPS, protesting the closure and holding multiple meetings with USPS officials. He also cosponsored legislation to alleviate the financial burden facing USPS.
Faced with huge financial losses, USPS last week announced it would shut down half of its mail processing plants, eliminating about 35,000 jobs. Included was the Whitestone plant, which was among 223 plants slated to be closed by next February. USPS hopes to save $20 billion in costs with the closures through 2015.
CRITICIZES FED EPA’S HANDS-OFF FRACKING: Following a federal official’s reported statement that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not intend to take the lead in the controversy over drilling for natural gas using high-volume hydraulic fracturing, Councilmember James Gennaro declared:
“This is a completely unacceptable abdication of federal leadership. From a national environmental regulatory perspective, this is like taking us back to the Articles of Confederation. When President Obama made fracking a pillar of his job creation, economic revitalization and energy independence strategies for the country in his State of the Union address, it was clear that the federal government needed to step up and create comprehensive, science-based, environmentally protective national regulations [over] fracking—as it has for each and every other method of energy exploration and production.”
Continuing his disagreement with the position espoused by federal EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Gennaro, who heads the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection, stated:
“New York state—or any state, for that matter—is grossly unequipped to perform the basic science that would lead to even a basic understanding of the poorly understood— and to some degree, completely unknown—phenomena associated with high volume hydraulic fracturing and the possible consequences of those phenomena.
“Without the understanding, the development of adequate regulations and enforcement by states is impossible. The prodigious resources of the federal government are desperately needed here.”
At the moment the state Department of Environmental Protection is considering if and where New York state should allow the natural gas industry be allowed to engage in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to access the huge amounts of underground natural gas deposits in New York state.
The state EPA will have to decide the boundaries of the fracking if it gives the natural gas industry the go-ahead to dig. The critical question in the EPA’s decision rests on the question of safety, because fracking creates the danger of damage to sources of drinking water whenever it’s allowed.
In its deliberations, which will guide Governor Andrew Cuomo to say yes and create large numbers of jobs and spur much needed economic development in the state; or say no in order to protect the state’s drinking water and for other environmental considerations.
In particular, Gennaro and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have loudly demanded that special safety precautions against fracking must be taken to protect the reservoirs in the Catskills that store the city’s drinking water. A decision by Cuomo is not far off.
HALLORAN HONORED BY IRISH ECHO: Councilmember Dan Halloran (R–C–Whitestone) has been honored by the Irish Echo newspaper, which bestowed its prestigious “Irish 40 Under 40” award upon him.
Halloran, who was 39 when the Echo’s nomination process was going on, had turned 40 when the award was given. It took place last Thursday at the Rosie O’Grady’s Manhattan Club.
Receiving the award, Halloran said, “As a proud Irish New Yorker, I am honored to be one of the Irish 40 Under 40. I’ll be Irish for life, but I won’t always be under 40.”
The lawmaker, an attorney, added, “Irish Americans have made a huge impact on New York City and the United States of America. From Presidents John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan to New York Congressman Peter King and many others, Irish-Americans are a huge part of our nation’s fabric.”
PERALTA PURSUES FAKE ID OUTFITS: Jackson Heights has become the center of fake IDs including bogus Social Security cards, driver’s licenses and immigrant green cards, for starters. State Senator Jose Peralta wants to do something about it.
Peralta wants a law to make the punishment for selling phony IDs equal to one covering forging an ID card. The lawmaker, who compares Roosevelt Avenue to “the old Times Square” for ease of getting anything criminal, said recently the strip is overrun with counterfeit ID sellers, drugs and gangs. He adds, “Fake IDs are really at the heart of a number of criminal enterprises.”
This proposed law would make selling fake IDs a higher felony punishable by terms of five to 15 years in prison, up from only two and a half years at present.
This is not a suddenly developing phenomena. In 2007, Queens DA Richard Brown bagged one ring whose sales were about $1 million-a-year selling stuff on the street. Criminals involved targeted mostly illegal immigrants, but other work was done for criminal types.
The problem is very bad in Jackson Heights, along Roosevelt Avenue from 76th to 103rd Streets where 10 gangs operate.
BREATHING ROOM FOR GILLIBRAND: The toughest candidate who could have faced U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was Harry Wilson, but he has reportedly dropped out of the race. Gillibrand is running for a full six-year term in November.
Wilson, who made a very good showing in the 2010 state comptroller’s race, dropped out against Gillibrand because he’s running for a seat on the Yahoo board of directors. Still expected to run against the junior senator is George Maragos, the Nassau County comptroller.