While the Assembly and Senate have begun a process to reform the
rules that govern how each house legislates, much remains to be done in
order to fundamentally alter the underpinning that makes Albany so
inefficient and ineffectual.
Here in New York State we have an artificially divided legislature
that owes more to political gerrymandering than a conscious decision by
the voters to split their government. It is no secret that our district
boundaries have resulted in some of the least competitive elections in
the United States. In the just-concluded 2004 election cycle, fully 25
percent of state legislators were uncontested for reelection and many
more than that faced only token opposition that posed no threat
whatsoever. The lack of competition leaves legislators with no
incentive to keep from digging in their heels on an issue and resisting
That is why I have introduced legislation that would strike at the
core of this problem. My proposal would establish an independent
commission that would become responsible for the decennial task of
reapportioning legislative districts, removing the undertaking from the
legislature itself and removing, along with it, the conflicting
motivation for legislators to draw districts that primarily ensure their
own reelections rather than connect communities that share natural
boundaries and local concerns.
The commission would be comprised of members appointed equally by the majority and minority leaders of both legislative houses, with a final member chosen by these appointees serving as Chair. In the event that the leaders’ appointees are unable to agree on a Chair, the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals would make the final appointment. No longer will legislators be allowed to serve on the commission, and no longer will the commission’s decisions be decided by only two legislative leaders.
This commission would conduct extensive public hearings in every
metropolitan area of the state before creating its plan. Another series
of public hearings would occur subsequent to the plan being released to
the public, so that comments regarding the specific proposal could also
Community Cohesion Not Party Favoritism
The most substantial change affected by my proposal, however, would
be the establishment of new criteria and restrictions on what the
commission may consider in drafting its plan. For the first time, there
would be a prohibition on the drawing of district boundaries with the
goal of favoring or opposing any political party. The commission would
not be permitted to use party registration data to maximize the
likelihood of success of either party in an election. This provision
alone would single-handedly end the all-too-common practice of drawing
disjointed and abnormally shaped districts in order to squeeze the
maximum number of voters of one political party into a district.
Instead, natural boundaries and the cohesiveness of communities would
drive the drawing of the maps and a more representative balance of
Democrats and Republicans would exist in each district, leading to more
After the extensive public process outlined above, the commission's
formal proposal would be presented to the legislature for approval.
Significantly, the legislature would be unable to amend the plan before
voting to accept or reject it. Should the legislature reject the
commission's first proposal, a second map would be created by the
commission addressing the legislature's reasons for failing to approve
the initial plan. Again, the Assembly and Senate would only be
permitted to vote yes or no without amendments. Only after three plans
are submitted to the legislature by the commission can the district
boundaries be amended by the legislature.
With these provisions in effect more candidates would emerge in newly
competitive districts and voters would be empowered like never before by
the opportunity to select among diverse candidates with divergent views.
Elected officials would either become more responsive to the public's
concerns or risk losing their elections. Ultimately, the logjam that
typifies Albany's approach to the state's problems would be removed at
the source and by the ultimate arbiters of public policy - the
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