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New Lines Mock Democracy

TimesLedger Newspapers

It seemed impossible, but the Republicans who control the state Senate have found a way to redraw Senate district lines in a manner that is more bizarre than the lines that exist.

In western Queens, the proposed new lines would push Sen. Michael Gianaris to run in a primary against Sen. Jose Peralta if they wanted to remain in office. The senators say the new lines were politically inspired. Both said they have no intention of running against each other.

If the new lines are adopted, Gianaris will no longer live in his district. Peralta accused Senate Republicans of trying to maintain their majority by pitting Democrats in the city against each other. He is probably right, but he should not pretend this is something Democrats would not do if they had the chance.

In drawing the new lines, the Republicans have engaged in a tradition of gerrymandering that goes back at least 200 years. In 1812, Elbridge Gerry, governor of Massachusetts, signed a bill into law that redistricted his state in a way that would overwhelmingly benefit the Republican Party.

One of the districts was shaped so strangely that a Federalist said it looked like a salamander. No, said another Federalist, “it’s a gerrymander.”

And so the term was born.

Redistricting on the state and congressional levels takes place every 10 years after the census. In western Queens and in every part of the borough, communities like Astoria have been split in two. In some cases, the excuse was to keep ethnic groups linked together, but the result is an embarrassment.

To his credit, Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised at an event in Syracuse that he will veto boundaries not drawn by an independent commission.

“My position is crystal clear,” he said. “It has been for a long time. I said during the campaign, when I was first running, that we have to stop the gerrymandering and that I support an independent commission so we have a non-partisan redistricting plan.”

There should be no rush to finish the redistricting. Until an independent committee can be formed that will respect the democratic process, the lines should remain as they are. If this cannot be done in time for the next election, so be it.

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