March 4, 2012

New York State Redistricting May Affect County Politics

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Under plans proposed by both the New York State Senate and the New York State Assembly, the state’s 22nd Congressional District — which contains Tompkins County — will be eliminated.

After the 2010 Census, the United States Census Bureau determined that New York State would lose two seats in the House of Representatives due to smaller changes in population relative to the other 50 states, according to data from the Department of Commerce. The loss of seats has made the political process especially contentious.

The 22nd Congressional district seat is currently held by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y. 22), who announced his retirement in January.

Both proposed plans for the 22nd district, according to Irene Stein, chair of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee, would put Tompkins County in the 25th Congressional District, which is currently represented by Rep. Ann Buerkle (R – N.Y. 25).

While the 25th Congressional District is currently represented by a Republican, Stein said that she did not believe merging Tompkins County with the 25th District would hurt Democrats’ ability to win Congressional elections.

“Either plan would make this a more Democratic area, because we would be moving in with Onondaga County, which contains Syracuse, another heavily Democratic city,” Stein said.

Additionally, Stein said that, regardless of the imminent redistricting, many qualified candidates have expressed an interest in running for the seat. She added that she is confident a Democrat would defeat Buerkle.

“There are a number of candidates interested in running, and I think they’re all very strong,” Stein said. “We’ll defeat Buerkle, regardless of redistricting, because her policies are anti-middle class and don’t reflect the views of the district.”

James Drader, chair of the Tompkins County Republican Party, disagreed with Stein’s assessment of the race. Drader was confident in Buerkle’s ability to win, even with the potential addition of the heavily Democratic Ithaca to her district.

“It’s going to be a little tougher for her with all of Tompkins County, but even the Assembly plan gives her part of Madison County and all of Cayuga County,” Drader said. “I think she could with either plan.”

Drader also said that Buerkle would be a good replacement for Hinchey.

“Although I didn’t agree with Rep. Hinchey’s politics, he served for a long time and many people think he has done a good job. Rep. Buerkle has done an excellent job as well, and I’d be proud to have her as my representative,” Drader said.

Despite having differing opinions on electoral politics, both Stein and Drader agreed that gerrymandering — dividing a district to give one party an advantage over the other — is a problem that can result in lengthy court battles which drain resources and impede the political process.

“If you look at the Republican districting or if you look at the Democratic districting, I think you could say both sides protect their own,” Drader said.

Stein echoed Drader’s sentiments.

“When the people who are affected by the redistricting are in charge of the process, you get an incumbent protection plan. That’s the situation right now,” Stein said.

Stein suggested that the best way to avoid the problems associated with gerrymandered districts is for the state legislature to create an independent redistricting commission.

“I very strongly wish that the state legislature would have followed the example that Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca set by having an independent redistricting commission,” Stein said. “Fortunately, Governor Cuomo has threatened to veto any proposal he believes to be gerrymandered.”

Drader echoed Stein’s concerns about the need to remove the redistricting process from the hands of the state legislature.

“I would be very much in favor of an independent redistricting commission for the whole state. I think that’s the best way to go to avoid court battles,” Drader said. “I wish they would just get it done so we could go to work.”

Original Author: Matthew Rosenspire