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Ball's District Widens Westchester Presence

Expanding south, the 40th S.D. loses Bedford but adds New Castle and Mount Pleasant in a redefinition of political lines mandated by census data.

State Sen. Greg Ball’s 40th District would markedly expand its Westchester presence—covering communities from the Hudson to the Connecticut border, the Putnam line to Valhalla—under draft maps made public Thursday.

The district would add New Castle and Mount Pleasant while ceding Bedford to a redrawn 37th S.D. The new-look 40th District, drawn by a state commission proposing legislative lines that reflect population shifts seen in the 2010 census, would also lose upstate towns.

In addition to absorbing the 37th S.D.’s inroads from the south, the redrawn 40th S.D. would carve out a riverfront niche in its western edge to accommodate Ossining (including parts of Briarcliff Manor). It would join a reconfigured, Rockland-based 38th S.D., the town’s 37,674 residents replacing Haverstraw and its 36,634.

Haverstraw and another Rockland town, Stony Point, would become part of a new, Orange County-centric 39th District, the first time in two decades that the 38th has not covered all of Rockland.

Democrats complained that the move targets incumbent Sen. David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown.

“It’s clear to anyone, not just followers of politics, that these districts weren’t drawn with the best interests of the people in mind,” said Democratic County Chairwoman Kristen Stavisky.

As it stands today, the 40th S.D. includes towns across the length of Westchester’s northern border—Cortlandt, plus the City of Peekskill; Yorktown; Somers and North Salem—but extends south only as far as Lewisboro, Pound Ridge and Bedford, plus Mount Kisco. Under the redistricting, the 40th would lose, in addition to Bedford, the western half of Putnam County, dropping Philipstown, Putnam Valley and Kent, and the Dutchess towns of Milan, Pine Plains, North East, Amenia and Dover. Mount Kisco would remain in the district.

The new maps are published on the website of a legislative task force that drew the new district boundaries. Guided by population data, and likely a welter of political considerations, the bipartisan task force—its members selected by the Legislature’s divided leadership—has defined a new state political map in time for November’s elections. Those maps now go to the Assembly and State Senate for a vote. After that, they would go to the governor for a signature or veto, which has been threatened in the event of obvious gerrymandering.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had urged, to no avail, that the Legislature allow an independent commission to draw the new district lines, threatening to veto any overtly partisan plan. He renewed that threat Thursday after seeing the draft maps.

“At first glance, these lines are simply unacceptable and would be vetoed by the Governor,” a spokesman, Josh Vlasto, said. “We need a better process and product.”

 

Closed-door drafts

Though its work could influence electoral politics for at least the next decade, the task force toiled in secret, deciding behind closed doors on revised shapes and locations for the state’s 150 Assembly districts and, in a one-seat increase, 63 State Senate districts.   

With few New Yorkers able to identify the districts in which they live, let alone name their state senator or assemblyman, immediate interest in the maps will likely be limited, largely confined to officeholders, those who would displace them and the entourage of both. Within that realm, however, the decennial districting process seems inevitably to attract controversy. This time around, it has been especially contentious, drawing complaints from insiders like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch, who want an independent—a nonpartisan rather than bipartisan—panel to draw the lines, and Common Cause, which has already drawn its own proposed districts.

In the end, said one Westchester politician, “The courts will probably have the final say.” A veteran of the county’s back rooms, he said it’s unlikely that districts drawn by any of the oft-mentioned mapmakers—the Legislature, the governor or an independent commission—would escape a legal challenge or two. “That’ll leave it to a judge to decide what the maps look like,” he said.

None of this political churn is provoked by the ostensible reason for remapped districts—the need to keep them roughly equal in population—but instead by how they place “different sets of voters together in new ways,” as the Brennan Center for Justice puts it.

“The way that voters are grouped into districts...has an enormous influence on who our representatives are, and what policies they fight for,” the public-policy body says in a study of redistricting.

Over the years, political strategists have jockeyed to leverage a district’s demographic data, combining or dividing ethnic, racial, religious and other concentrations to enhance their voting power, or minimize their strength.

In the practical politics of Albany, where Democrats overwhelmingly control the Assembly and Republicans have an edge in the Senate, party leaders typically strike deals on districting deals. This year, however, Cuomo has vowed to veto any maps that obviously exploit partisan differences or advantages

The maps released Thursday are advisory-only. In that sense, the bipartisan commission that drafted them—the Legislative Advisory Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment—functions as a legislative committee, reporting its work product to the full chambers for ultimate disposition.

LATFOR, as the commission is known in Albany, comprises two state senators, two Assembly members and two non-legislators, all of them appointed by the political leadership of the Legislature’s two houses.

Bill January 27, 2012 at 06:36 PM
I'm really surprised that Ball would want to have more Westchester residents in his district. I was hoping they would find him more people in Putnam and other Republican-friendly areas who would not see through his phoniness and threaten his re-election chances, and give us someone more reasonable.
SPK January 27, 2012 at 11:28 PM
Clever wording, Bill
Art Hanley January 28, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Property values just went up in Kent and other areas he will no longer represent.
Ross Revira January 28, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Art, the only thing that will make property values in Kent go up would be to level and rebuild from the ground up.

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