Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Koch Collects Pledges

Four Candidates Promise

Impartial Redistricting

Of Legislature in 2011

By Henry J. Stern
April 20, 2010

A significant step towards political reform took place yesterday when New York Uprising, a citizens group led by former Mayor Edward I. Koch, displayed the signatures of all four candidates for governor of New York State, attached to pledges committing themselves to supporting independent nonpartisan redistricting of the state and vetoing any apportionment bill that did not include or was not a product such a commission.

By law, the state must redraw its congressional and legislative district lines in 2011, when the results of the 2010 Decennial census are compiled and released.

The state now has 29 Congressional districts, with one vacancy caused by snorkeling Eric Massa's sudden departure. New York is expected to lose additional seats next year due to its relatively small gain in population over the last decade. During the 1940's, New York had 45 seats and California 25. Today California has 53.

The state is also now divided into 62 senate districts and 150 assembly districts. Their boundaries have traditionally been set by the leadership of the majority party in each house of the legislature, who draw lines in their own political interest.

The pledge story is reported on pA16 of today's Times by sagacious reporter Sam Roberts. He wrote:

"The four major-party candidates running or expected to run for governor of New York have pledged to support nonpartisan, independent redistricting of legislative and Congressional seats next year -- a change that state lawmakers have resisted for decades.

"Using data from this year's census, the Assembly and the Senate will draft a redistricting plan that needs approval by the governor and the United States Department of Justice. Critics have long charged that lawmakers' main priority is coming up with districts designed to protect their seats.

"The pledge signed by the candidates for governor commits them to creating a redistricting commission 'to draft advisory maps for the legislature to review and approve' and to veto any commission that is not required to create 'contiguous, competitive, compact' districts.

"Other statewide candidates and legislative incumbents and their challengers will be asked to sign similar pledges, said Bradley Tusk, a political consultant and adviser to the new coalition advocating change.

"The pledge was signed by three Republicans: Rick A. Lazio, a former congressman; Steve Levy, the Suffolk County executive; and Carl P. Paladino, an upstate developer. Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat who is widely expected to declare his own candidacy for governor, issued a letter committing himself to the pledge's principles if he runs.

"The coalition, called New York Uprising, includes Citizens Union, New York Civic, former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani."

"The candidates will be asked to sign pledges committing themselves to tougher ethics rules and constraints on government spending. But Mr. Koch, Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, and Henry J. Stern, the director of New York Civic, said that independent redistricting was a crucial first step.

"'The opportunity to elect on the basis of competence and ideas, rather than party and geography, can have a seismic impact on the way state government functions', Mr. Koch said."

The nine trustees of New York Uprising are former Governor Mario M. Cuomo, former New York City mayors Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani; investment banker and former Ambassador Felix Rohatyn; former State Comptroller Ned Regan, former Congressman and Deputy Mayor Herman Badillo, and former Deputy Mayors Alair Townsend, Rudy Washington and John Zuccotti.

The news conference attracted considerable attention in the blogosphere, with Crain's Jeremy Smerd reporting ED KOCH OFFERS UP A FIX FOR ALBANY; Celeste Katz of the NY Daily News blog writing KOCH PUSHES POLS ON GOOD GOVERNMENT PLEDGE, and Azi Paybarah in the New York Observer blog asking WHAT WILL ED KOCH SAY IF HE GETS ANGRY?

The Albany Times-Union, a newspaper known for its state political coverage, printed an article by Rick Carlin headlined A LEVEL POLITICAL PLAYING FIELD; GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATES PLEDGE SUPPORT FOR REDISTRICTING REFORM.

Capital Tonight, of the State of Politics blog, posted an entry by the prolific and industrious Liz Benjamin, headed KOCH'S SECRET WEAPON AGAINST ALBANY: SHAME She provides some background to the story, and includes three particularly vivid quotes from Mayor Koch. You can link here to her informative article.


"The root of our state's inabilities to deal with our crushing fiscal problems and pressing policy issues is the power of the Legislature to draw safe district lines for incumbents. This practice allows legislators to choose their voters before the voters choose them. Safe, gerrymandered seats held by incumbents loyal to legislative and party leaders allow legislators to cater simply to partisan extremes and special interests." said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union and co-founder of New York Uprising, as quoted in today's Times.


The power of legislative leaders to draw the lines for their houses enables them to reward loyalists and punish independents. An assemblymember or senator who speaks out or differs with the leadership can find his district joined with a competitor's, or his home carved out of his district he has represented. The authority to delineate districts is the nuclear political weapon. The possibility of its use is a powerful deterrent to deviation from the party line.

What is remarkable in 2010 is that Mayor Koch has thrown his influence into the struggle for reform, just as Eleanor Roosevelt and Herbert Lehman did in their senior years at the birth of the Reform Movement of the 1950's. Koch has successfully reached out to influential New Yorkers, who previously were just not into issues like redistricting, or were deterred from involvement because of the offices they held at the time, or because they were not self-employed. One aspect of age is the freedom to tell more of the truth, if you can remember it. This is because one is no longer part of entities whose interests would be prejudiced by candor.

This year has seen a wave of public disrespect for government officials, who are often considered self-serving and untruthful. Incumbents of both parties, particularly Democrats because their party is in power, are faring poorly in their private polls. In the few districts that remain competitive, incumbents are fearful of the next election. This is a moment in time when the demand for change is in the air. We will learn whether the political establishment will accept honest districting, ethics reform and transparency in state business, or whether it will close ranks to prevent any alteration in the status quo. That would leave it to public prosecutors to cull the herd.


The fight for good government is perpetual. No sooner is one bunch of rascals, cowards or thieves swept out than another arises to take their place. The worst part is that the people you have elected by great effort tend eventually to exemplify Lord Acton's brilliant observation in an 1887 letter to Bishop Creighton, a professor of ecclesiastical history at Cambridge University, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

StarQuest #661 04.20.2010 1184wds

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