Good-government advocates are warning that new election district lines expected to be released this week by New York's Republican-led Senate and the Assembly's Democratic majority will be used to try to consolidate the power the majority parties currently wield.
Although the majorities refused to comment early Wednesday, Newsday reported that the Senate Republicans will create a 63rd seat in Albany County, splitting a Democratic stronghold. The New York Daily News reported that the Senate GOP will also redraw a Queens district based in Flushing that would be the first district in the Senate dominated by Asian voters, one of New York's fastest-growing groups of voters.
Democratic Sen. Neil Breslin, who has represented the Albany County district for 15 years, said Republicans are creating "an illegal district" for the county, which has always been a single Senate district.
"Albany County is as close to a Senate district as you could draw, if you were drawing it properly," Breslin said Wednesday. "In a state where population losses are upstate and we're losing two congressional seats, the audacity of the Republicans to draft a district in upstate New York ... is an indication of how unconstitutional and unfair the process is."
Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the New York Public Interest Research Group are watching closely to see if the new lines adhere to civil rights and voting laws, or the majorities' political interests. They have long been critical of the process and have sought an independent panel to handle redistricting.
In Queens, the Flushing-based district would consolidate neighborhoods dominated by Asian-American residents now located in several districts. The Daily News also reported that a similar plan will consolidate Orthodox Jewish voters in an altered district in Brooklyn centered around Borough Park.
Republicans have defended adding a 63rd seat as a way to avoid a potential 31-31 tie in the chamber where 32 votes are needed to pass legislation. Republicans hold a 32-30 majority and usually vote as a bloc. In the past, absences have required the GOP to postpone votes on contested bills to assure passage.
The Assembly's Democratic majority, now 95-51, has been secure for decades. But Republicans have made inroads in the last two elections and have erased the Democrats' two-thirds, supermajority margin that was enough to override a governor's veto in the chamber without Republican support.
The majorities are required by state and federal laws to redraw districts every 10 years based on census data to keep similar communities together and to make sure racial minorities have a voice in the Legislature.
The new districts will be presented to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He has promised to veto lines drawn to protect the majorities, although what factors would trigger that veto isn't clear. Cuomo and the legislative majorities pledged during the 2010 campaigns to create an independent redistricting commission to draw the lines and avoid the power play going back decades.
The issue died after the election. Senate Republicans, closely allied with Cuomo on fiscal issues, instead want a constitutional amendment. That couldn't be in effect until at least 2022, when the next round of redistricting occurs.
Lawsuits by good-government groups and political groups could also force the final lines to be draw by the courts.
One observer called the redistricting process as reported in press accounts "naked self-interest."
"The Rolling Stones are right and you can't always get what you want, but the Senate Republicans got almost exactly what they wanted in redistricting," said Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College. "A promise? No shame in breaking pre-election pledge."
Democratic Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens accused Republicans of serving only their own political interest in redistricting.
"We expect their draft will be abusively gerrymandered and the strongest argument of why we need fairness and independence in redistricting will be their own plan," Gianaris said.