ALBANY -- Government watchdog groups are gearing up to begin computer-generated calls into the districts of Senate Republicans who they say have backed off a campaign promise last year to create an independent commission to draw new legislative lines in next year’s redistricting process.
Former New York Mayor Ed Koch this morning called Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos “an enemy of reform’’ who has “betrayed’’ his vow last year to make the redistricting process less partisan driven.
Koch, a Democrat, said the Republicans are at risk of holding onto the Senate – which they recaptured last year after two years out of power – because of widening gaps between Democratic and Republican voters.
“This is not a plot or a plan to reduce Republican representation,’’ Koch told reporters at the Capitol after a meeting with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has vowed to veto any gerrymandered legislative lines.
“Are you asking me if anything would help Republicans? I doubt it,’’ Koch said.
The redistricting process occurs once a decade following the U.S. Census process. Senate Republicans say they have met their pledge by earlier this year okaying a resolution to amend the constitution to permit an independent panel to draw state and congressional lines. Because of the years it takes to amend the constitution, the panel under the Senate GOP plan would not be effective until after next year’s redistricting process.
By Albany tradition, the Democrats in control of the Assembly draw their own district lines and the Republicans running the Senate draw theirs. The governor must okay the new boundaries. If they are vetoed, the whole matter goes to a “special master’’ appointed by the courts to draw the lines. Critics say the process leads to widespread gerrymandering and incumbency protection.
Koch would not say yet whose Senate districts would be targeted for the robo calls beginning next week.
In a reply letter to Koch, Skelos wrote, “I am disappointed that your well-meaning crusade for reform has recently devolved into a series of increasingly bitter personal attacks. These divisive attacks don’t help us achieve our shared goal of redistricting reform, and they don’t serve the public well.’’
Skelos noted that Senate Democrats did not approve an independent redistricting bill when they were in the majority in 2009 and 2010, nor has the Assembly Democrats approved Cuomo’s redistricting proposal. He said a statement by a Senate Democrat about using redistricting to push Senate Republicans into “oblivion” question the motives of Senate Democrats now backing an independent panel. Koch, in his letter to Skelos, agreed that the comment by Democratic Senator Malcolm Smith was “stupid.’’
Koch wrote that Republicans aren’t alone in opposing the redistricting plan his group is advocating. He said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer told him in a phone call that a non-partisan commission could cost Democrats to lose three House seats in New York to Republicans.
“I told him if you believe in reform and good government that outcome resulting from a fair process should not be the reason to oppose the process,’’ Koch said he told Schumer.
Koch wrote to Skelos asking him to join his effort “instead of engaging in a dishonorable act worthy of a hack politician.’’
-- Tom Precious