Former Mayor Ed Koch, leader of the New York Uprising, a group that fought for reform of the Legislature , said mournfully today that the effort at reform had failed.
“In the light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision,” he told me, “this crusade is dead.”
Koch had made a fundamental change in the re-districting process the centerpiece of his program for reform. Every 10 years, the U.S. Census releases new population figures for cities and counties around the state. These figures are supposed to be the basis for new lines for legislative and Congressional districts.
Koch wanted decisions on how these maps should be revised left to the courts.
But, last Friday, the Supreme Court rejected election maps drawn by a federal court in Texas. In effect, this lower court ruled the Legislature had the ultimate authority in determining the boundaries of election districts. The ruling enables political bosses or leaders to decide what, if anything, to do about re-drawing district lines.
This would enable continuance of the practice of gerrymandering -- that is drawing districts in odd shapes to ensure that incumbents retain their seats.
“It’s terrible, but guaranteed,” Koch said, “that gerrymandering will continue. You can’t fight the Supreme Court. Their decision will make the political bosses happy but make true reform of the Legislature’s election process impossible.
“It’s very sad,” said Koch. “It’s tragic.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo had threatened to veto any proposal for re-districting that was made by legislators rather than an independent commission. But the Governor’s threat seems empty now. The high court has laid down the law -- and an independent commission is not in accord with the Supreme Court’s wishes.
An effort, spurred by Koch to create such an independent commission, has languished in the Assembly. The Republican-controlled Senate has a feeble bill that hasn’t been acted upon. It would delay re-districting until 2022!
As Koch told me, “no bill has been introduced that outlaws gerrymandering. It’s very destructive of our political system. I’ve been called on to bless whatever the Legislature does. Who can believe them? I’ve worked too hard walking those long corridors in Albany to believe these guys.
“And the Supreme Court is a disappointment.”
Indeed. It’s easy to understand the chagrin of New York’s 105th mayor. Despite the multiple scandals, the disillusionment of the voters, an effort to reform Albany seems to have died. Koch wrote the obituary.
”It makes me so sad,” he said. “I really thought we had a good chance of achieving real reform.”