Every ten years, the boundaries of political districts are redrawn to reflect the most recent Census. Redistricting is a Constitutional necessity, but the process is often messy and controversial, as objective legal standards combine in unpredictable ways with partisan or personal motivations.
Last year, the New Rochelle City Council redrew our local municipal districts, and, all in all, I think we did a pretty good job. The State legislature (with an assist from the courts) just finished drawing lines for the State Assembly, State Senate and United States Congress. Here’s my review of the good, the bad, and the ugly, as they affect New Rochelle.
The Good: State Assembly
The new lines for the State Assembly offer only minor, incremental changes in existing patterns of representation. New Rochelle will continue to be split roughly north-south between the 88th Assembly District (represented by Amy Paulin) and the 91st Assembly District (represented by George Latimer.) The new conguration for New Rochelle as a whole is here.
No detectable mischief in this plan, and while I might wish that some split neighborhoods were kept whole, the overall configuration is rational.
The Bad: United States Congress
The Assembly and Senate were never able to agree upon a set of lines of New York’s 27 congressional district (down from 29), so the courts had to intervene and impose a plan drawn by a “special master.” This interactive feature from the New York Times lets you compare the old and new districts.
To give the court credit, it drew districts that are neat and compact, as many non-partisan advocates recommend. Unfortunately, the court-imposed plan assigns little weight to historic patterns of representation. As a consequence, about 700,000 people in Westchester and Rockland — a majority of these two counties — were shifted into new congressional districts. New Rochelle has been represented by Congresswoman Nita Lowey for 24 years. We will now be represented by Congressman Eliot Engel within a district that crosses the Bronx-Westchester border. My characterization of this arrangement as “bad” is not a judgment on Congressman Engel, with whom I look forward to working, but rather reflects my feelings about losing Nita Lowey. She has been a terrific advocate (with whom, full disclosure, I have had a long professional relationship), and it’s a shame that the judicial map unnecessarily severs the connection that hundreds of thousands of residents have formed with their U.S. Representative.
The Ugly: State Senate
Elbridge Gerry would be proud. (If you don’t know the reference, please Google Mr. Gerry’s name.) The new lines for the State Senate pretty much make a mockery of any good-government redistricting standard.
Drawn by the State Senate’s Republican majority, the plan has one purpose and one purpose only: to make the 37th Senate District, presently represented by the retiring Suzi Oppenheimer, more competitive for Republican candidates. To achieve this goal, it twists and turns in remarkable ways, forming a swirling pattern in New Rochelle. This map shows how the city would be split.
The remainder of New Rochelle would be placed in the 35th Senate District, represented by Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers. The fact that this plan brings the able Ms. Stewart-Cousins into our community is the only good thing that can be said for it.