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by Jay Gallagher

Monday, April 19, 2010

New reform group debuts

Some political heavyweights signed on today to the movement to clean up Albany.

Chaired by former Mayor Ed Koch and including former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Gov. Mario Cuomo, the group, known as New York Uprising, wants lawmakers and other candidates for office to pledge to support non-partisan reapportionment - a goal of the League for years that has never made it through the Legislature.

The group, which also includes the Citizens Union, wants candidates to support the creation of “an independent, non-partisan redistricting commission to draft advisory maps for the Legislature to review and approve.’’

The group also wants the candidates to pledge to veto any plan that does not create “contiguous, competitive, compact legislative districts.’’

The practice in Albany has for decades been for Republicans to draw lines for the Senate, which it controlled from 1965 until last year, and the Democrats for the Assembly, where they have had the majority since 1975. The two houses would compromise on U.S. House of Representatives districts. Redistricting is mandated by the federal government for the elections following each census.

The custom had has raised the stakes in this year’s state Senate races, where Democrats hope to cling to their thin 32-30 majority or expand it so they can draw lines starting in the 2012 elections that would assure their control for decades. Common wisdom is non-partisan reapportionment would favor the Democrats, since there are three enrolled Democrats in the state for every two Republicans.

Republicans, whose skill at drawing the reapportionment maps is widely credited with allowing them to control the Senate for decades even as their enrollment numbers slipped, are desperate to get back the majority to keep a hand on the knife that carves up districts.

Governors, who have to sign the bill, have never seriously challenged the system, usually setting for some quid pro quo with lawmakers in exchange for their signatures. The idea of New York Uprising, as well as the position of the League and other reform groups, is to get candidates on the record ahead of time.

Already signed up GOP gubernatorial hopefuls Rick Lazio, Carl Paladino and Steve Levy. Democratic Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, now far ahead in the polls but not yet an official candidate, signed a letter supporting the concept without specifically endorsing the Uprising position.

League legislative director Barbara Bartoletti welcomed the new group to the fray.

The League “welcomes New York Uprising to the reform movement,’’ she said. “Non partisan, independent redistricting has long been a League priority. We believe elections should be about an exchange of ideas not about the drawing of lines that benefit political parties and incumbents."

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