NY lawmakers face calls for hearings on new district maps
ALBANY — The leaders of good government groups called Wednesday for New York’s Legislature to hold public hearings before passing new Congressional and legislative district maps in the coming days.
The state’s independent redistricting commission has so far failed to come to agreement on a single set of maps for lawmakers to consider, after holding public hearings starting last fall on draft political maps submitted by Democratic and Republican commissioners.
That means the Legislature can now start from scratch and pass their own set of maps that will lay out political boundaries for the next decade. Those maps could vary drastically from the ones the public had a chance to weigh in on. A small group of lawmakers and staffers on the six-member state Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment is currently working on the maps behind the scenes.
“Communities impacted by the amendments, including those protected by the Voting Rights Act, should have the opportunity to offer input during a public hearing,” the leaders of several voting rights and good government groups said in a letter to lawmakers Wednesday.
They also called for releasing the maps and the underlying data for public viewing before any vote, and said lawmakers should adhere to voters’ 2014 approval of a ban on partisan gerrymandering.
Democratic Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced Wednesday that the Legislature plans to vote on their own maps next week.
The Democratic-led Legislature faces a tight deadline to finish its work: Boards of election statewide are getting ready for March 1, when political candidates need to start collecting signatures to run for office.
“We realize that the time for this will be limited, but it is important to demonstrate that the Legislature has the public interest in mind rather than partisan self-interest,” the good government groups said.
The letter was sent by League of Women Voters of New York State Executive Director Laura Ladd Bierman, Citizens Union of the City of New York Executive Director Betsy Gotbaum and Reinvent Albany Executive Director John Kaehny.
Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic Senate Leader, told reporters Tuesday that the public has had a chance to provide input on the overall redistricting process.
She pointed out that like other bills, the political district maps will get submitted and posted on the state’s website. The maps would then have to “age” for three consecutive legislative session days before lawmakers could vote.
“We will try and be again expeditious, but also give people an opportunity to see what’s going on,” she said.
Her office didn’t immediately answer a question Wednesday about whether she’s open to holding public hearings or releasing underlying data.
Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, a Republican, criticized Democrats for “rushing forward with partisan redistricting.”
“Rather than jam through back room, partisan maps, there should be a 10-day public review of any potential plan that affects New Yorkers’ representation for the next 10 years,” Ortt said.
The stakes are high for Republicans, who worry that Democrats with supermajorities in both chambers could gerrymander their way into gaining as many as four or five seats.
Census data released last summer shows that New York will lose its 27th congressional seat due to population loss largely in dwindling, conservative-friendly upstate communities.