The Senate's Republican leader and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo are on the brink of breaking campaign promises they made two years ago to overhaul legislative redistricting so that new boundaries are drawn without partisan gerrymandering, a former New York City mayor turned good-government activist said Thursday.
Ed Koch, founder of New York Uprising, bristled at reports of a political deal that could allow Cuomo to avoid vetoing a new map and start a two-year process for amending the state constitution to create an independent panel that would redraw election district lines beginning in 2022.
The constitutional change is expected to leave the final say to Legislature because Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos have repeatedly said in recent days that redistricting is constitutionally a legislative power.
"We now are at the moment of truth," Koch said.
Koch said Cuomo vowed during the 2010 elections to veto redistricting lines that aren't drawn by an independent commission. The Democratic governor has promised to veto the Legislature's first proposal, released last month before a series of public hearings, and to veto any revised lines he considers "hyper-political" to serve the Senate and Assembly majorities.
Cuomo has not said he's considering any independent panel at this point and has noted the courts are pressuring for a quick resolution. Koch said there is still time for an independent group to draw maps that serve voters rather than the lawmakers.
"I hope the governor will keep his commitment, I expect him to, he is a standup guy, he has said it over and over again he intends to," Koch said. "If he does not, I will criticize him."
"If (a deal) has been struck, I am opposed to it," Koch said. "I urge those people who are honorable and who have pledged themselves not to accept the lines without an independent commission being involved, I urge them to reject that if it is offered."
Cuomo said a federal court has created a form of independent panel on its own, so he doesn't have to.
"I have great respect for Mayor Koch on many levels," Cuomo said Thursday. "I don't know that we need more panels right now."
When asked if he was abandoning his pledge to Koch, Cuomo said: "I have been arguing for independent redistricting for many, many, many months and years. We are where we are now. We have an independent panel now — which is the court panel — and it may very well come to a situation where the court does the lines."
Skelos signed pledges along with his Republican colleagues to enact independent redistricting when they were in the minority in 2010. Democratic senators, then in the majority, also chose not to enact independent redistricting when they were in power, despite promising the reform for years.
Skelos "is not an honorable person in my book," Koch said. "The one thing in politics that I believe is key is that when you give your word, you keep it."
The Senate's Republican majority is closely allied with Cuomo on fiscal issues. Republicans hold a 32-30 majority going into this year's elections in the state with a nearly 2:1 Democratic enrollment advantage.
Skelos said the state constitution makes redistricting a responsibility of the Legislature, despite his conference making independent redistricting a campaign issue in 2010 against the Democrats.
"When that whole situation came up, it was the swirl of the campaign," Skelos said. "And after the campaign, I explored it and my belief was the constitution would not allow it ... the governor has indicated on numerous occasions that it is a legislative function."
"We cannot delegate that away, period," Skelos said in an interview.
Koch said he also doesn't believe the Assembly's Democratic majority and the Senate Republicans will adopt the reform in a constitutional amendment, as they promise now.
There was no immediate comment from the Assembly majority.
"Who can trust those guys in the Legislature if they tell you they will do something?" Koch said.