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New Yorkers deserve non-political, redistricted lines

TimesLedger Newspapers

On Feb. 7, I testified at the state Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment hearing at Queens Borough Hall regarding the proposed state Assembly and state Senate districts. After waiting more than four hours to testify, I gave my testimony to a commission that seemed uninterested in my thoughts.

Here is the text of my testimony:

“In 1987, as a young political science undergraduate student at the University at Albany, I wrote a paper whereby I suggested that New York state implement a system of independent redistricting of state and congressional districts.

“At the time, the state of Iowa was the only state with such a system. Today, in the year 2012, I would like to thank LATFOR for unquestionably proving the thesis of my college paper. LATFOR, by proposing these lines, has shown the citizens of New York state that our government in Albany is incapable of controlling itself and the New York state Senate and Assembly are incapable of representing their constituents and instead are more interested in political self-dealing and political self-preservation.

“The district lines proposed by LATFOR are despicable. Over the years, The Brennan Center for Justice has called our New York state government the ‘most dysfunctional’ state government in the nation. The district lines we are discussing today are prima facie evidence that this dysfunction is still alive and well.

“In a state where it seems that every week another elected official in Albany is either indicted or convicted, it is time for our legislators to show some interest in good government. Albany has become a cesspool of corruption. The lines that have been produced by LATFOR have clearly been designed to protect incumbents from being challenged, to protect the majorities held in each house of the Legislature and to punish the political enemies of the minority party of each house. This is no way to resolve the dysfunction that pervades our state government.

“In 2010, when I was a candidate for New York state Assembly, I signed a pledge to a group led by former Mayor Ed Koch that, if elected, I would support independent redistricting. Nearly every member of the Senate and the Assembly also signed such a pledge. Where is the independent redistricting you promised? Do you have to make it so obvious that your word means nothing?

“The New York state Constitution establishes that districts must be ‘in as compact form as practicable.’ Does anyone in his or her right mind believe that these districts are ‘compact’ in any sense of the word? These lines represent a ‘complete departure’ from any understanding of compactness, using the words of the 1972 decision in Schneider v. Rockefeller (31 N.Y.2d 420, 430). The citizens of New York deserve districts that are compact.

“The state constitution also requires that state legislative districts be composed of ‘contiguous territory.’ A contiguous district is one in which it is possible to travel from any point in the district to any other point in the district without crossing the district boundary. Historically, LATFOR has twisted this idea of contiguity using highways and inaccessible shorelines to connect unrelated towns and neighborhoods into one district. The citizens of New York deserve districts that are contiguous.

“New York State districts are also supposed to be drawn with great deference to county and municipal boundaries. In Queens, special deference should also be paid to our distinct neighborhoods. The lines drafted by LATFOR clearly have not given deference to such boundaries. Districts have been drafted to cross boundaries for nothing other than political gain. The citizens of New York deserve districts that show deference to county, municipal and neighborhood boundaries.

“So where does that leave us today? Since we are up against the time constraints brought about by the upcoming primaries, LATFOR must literally go back to the drawing board and draft new lines that not only follow the New York state Constitution, but also draft lines that are not politically motivated and will show the rest of the nation that New York is no longer interested in being the most dysfunctional government in the nation.

“If this proves impossible for the Legislature, then Gov. Cuomo must veto the districts. Frankly, a court-drawn map is better than a politically motivated, gerrymandered map drawn by LATFOR.

“Going forward, New York state needs to pass a constitutional amendment taking control over the redistricting process away from the Legislature and giving it to an independent commission. Many states, including Iowa, can serve as the model. Independent commissioners should be appointed from a pool of qualified candidates and no district lines should be drawn based upon the party enrollment of the voters or of the incumbent legislators. Districts should be compact; contiguous; give deference to county, municipal boundaries, neighborhood boundaries; and continue the protections of the U.S. Constitution and of the Voting Rights Act.

“It is time that New York state changes its dysfunctional ways and starts a path towards good government and reform. The first step towards that goal should now be independent redistricting. With these district lines, LATFOR is aiding and abetting our state’s dysfunction.

It’s time for the citizens of New York to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough.’ We want good government now.”

Steve Behar

Bayside

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