Koch Hopeful in Redistricting Fight

The former mayor believes he sees a path to victory in changing the way legislators are elected

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Former Mayor Edward Koch was happy as he left the state Capitol Tuesday.  He thinks his one-man campaign to change the way we select legislators may be succeeding.

    Koch was in a car coming back to New York City when I reached him on his cell phone.

    “We have done well," he said. "Early this morning, I didn’t think I was doing so well.  I met with Dean Skelos, the Republican leader of the Senate, and he said that he believed the legislation we propose is not constitutional.”

    To pass an amendment, Koch estimated, could take five years.

    “I was very upset,” said the former mayor, who has become a reformer.

    But later, the landscape changed. The Democratic Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, who has been lukewarm to the idea of changing district boundaries for Assembly members in line with new census figures, told Koch he now supports the idea.

    And then, while he was talking with Silver, Koch says, he got the word that Skelos had changed his mind. “He now supports the New York Uprising position.”

    Gov. Cuomo has introduced a bill to enact a non-partisan commission to accomplish redistricting. It’s what Koch and the reformers want.

    It appeared all sides had tentatively agreed on the legislation. But in a conversation with NBC New York reporter Melissa Russo, Skelos seemed to leave room for him to back away.

    Either way, when we spoke to Koch, he was upbeat about his chances for victory.

    In the old days, when Koch was mayor, he used to ask people he met on the street: “How’m I doin?” He thinks, in this effort, right now he’s doing well.

    There’s still a long way to go. The makeup of the non-partisan commission seems to be the next hurdle the reformers will face -- provided the bill isn’t blocked in the Legislature.  Enacting any legislation in Albany can mean following a long and difficult road.

    One of the evils of the past was that party leaders would carve up the Assembly and Senate districts to gain maximum advantage for themselves.

    Sometimes, districts took odd shapes -- gerrymandering -- so members could safeguard their majorities. Republican and Democratic leaders were prone to make deals to keep their people in power. Can that happy partnership be broken up easily?

    Gov. Cuomo should be commended for following through on a campaign promise. More than anyone, Koch, the 105th Mayor of New York, deserves credit for cajoling, pushing and prodding the Legislature to take action.

    At 86, he’s still somewhat of a kvetch, a nag, a dedicated servant to the public. He started out his political life as a reformer and, God bless him, he never gave up.