The last bill of the evening morning will dealwithrestructuring the state’s pension system.As of midnight, it hadn’t yet been printed, but Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, told me the plan was still to soldier on. Some members in his Democrat-dominated chamber were less-than-eager to vote for the measure, which has beencondemned by labor unions.
“I don’t know if I’m in the tank,” one told me. “I’d like to vote no, but sometimes that’s not how it goes.”
Lawmakers have spent the last several hours debating bills, including the lines themselves. They were drawn by LATFOR, a legislative task force jointly controlled by Democrats who dominate the Assembly and Republicans who hold a bare majority in the Senate and barely different from a first set of maps that Gov. Andrew Cuomocriticized as “hyper partisan.”
Most of the criticism has centered on the Senate’s lines, drawn by the majority Republicans. They create a 63rd seatstretching from Amsterdam to Kingston, cleaving AlbanyCounty in half. It is intended for Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, the wealthy head of an eponymous home-building company who, the hope is, will beable to finance his own campaign.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo had promised to veto “any redistricting plan in 2012 that reflects partisan gerrymandering.” But he has reversed himself,laying the groundwork in recent monthsto accept somewhat stinky lines so long as they were accompanied by a constitutional amendment and statute that changes the process for the future. This will, laudibly, theoretically, produce a better process — in a decade. The problem is it wasn’t a clean trade in the eyes of some, including Senate Democrats, andgood-government groups split on the agreed-to proposal.
Under this context, debate on the lines began after sundown. Albany Assemblyman Jack McEneny, LATFOR’s Democratic co-chair, explained the proposal in his low, grinding baritone. First up to criticize was Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, who arguably got the worst deal in redistricting.
Her new districtwould stretch from her home in suburban Utica to OrangeCounty. Tenney told me that’s maybe a four or five hour drive. Basically, it’s a remainder district: several other incumbents wanted tokeep the cores of their districts,and Tenney, low in seniority, just happened to reside in one that is “a garbage district [made up of] the misfit towns nobody wants.”
“I think I’m going to buy an airstream trailer and drive up and down as a district office,” she said.
She asked McEneny, essentially, what the hell happened.
“The problem was not with your district, but with districts surrounding,” he admitted. “The large bulk of population is on the two ends … If we could have split a town, it might have been a more flexible situation for map-drawing.”
“That’s the best we could do,” he said, not acknowledging but certainly not denying she got screwed.
The buzzer rang. Tenney’s time was up. She voted no, one of 40 members of the chamber to do so. Other Republicans including Assemblymen Jim Tedisco and Amedore, both Schenectady County Republicans, joined her. Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Canandaigua Republican who has frequently criticized the LATFOR process because he has essentially no say in it, was one of 96 members who voted yes.
“They’re not in the business of trying to give us happy maps … but overall it could have been a lot worse,” he explained.
Minority Democrats in the Senate took a different tactic.For over a year they have stirred the poton redistricting, attacking Republicans and hoping that Cuomo would veto whatever the Republicans came up with. Mathematically, New York is a Democratic place, and they say it is only mathemagic and a Picassoan sensibility that lets Republicans draw maps allowing them to maintain control of the Senate, and by extension, one of the three legs of New York’s governing troika.
Seneca Falls Sen. Mike Nozzolio, LATFOR’s Republican co-chair, defended the bill. He’s a lawyerly fellow, built like he played football at a nerd college. Amid flying criticisms these past several months he has always managed — with a straight face — to calmly repeat that LATFOR’s lines comply with the federal constitution, the State Constitution and all other applicable laws, particularly the federal Voting Rights Act.
“This is avery open processthat heard from hundreds of citizen and is a process that culminated in the completion of the plan that’s before us today,” he said.
Sen. Marty Dilan, D-Brooklyn, started with a series of questions about LATFOR’s process that Nozzolio essentially parried. Earlier, Dilan had denounced LATFOR’s work as a “sham.”
Next was Sen. Mike Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who has led his conference’s charge on this issue, because he’s legally conversant, articulate, and as an Assembly member until 2011, not associated with the group of Senate Democrats who did nothing to reform redistricting during the two years they controlled the chamber’s majority. Their leader, Malcolm Smith, even boasted once that Democrats would redistricting Republicans“into oblivion.”Gianaris gets immunity from this hypocrisy charge.
So he used the long knives to go after Nozzolio, and after a few minutes, fumed over.
“It seems like every answer is about what the courts would accept, rather than what would make good policy,” Gianaris said. “The question is, have you no shame, Senator Nozzolio? Please don’t give me your talking points again. I’ve heard them several times.”
This drew a rebuke from the chamber’s president, and did, albeit briefly, knock Nozzolio a bit off-message: “We’re dealing in the reality. I would like to see a better plan for a lot of different issues.”
The Republicans acted fairly bemused, then just called votes on the lines, the constitutional amendment, and other bills on the agenda — a constitutional amendmentpaving the way for casino gamblingand anexpansion of the state’s DNA databaseto include samples from most every convicted criminal. All passed 36-0: 32 Republicans plus the four-member Independent Democratic Conference, which has flirted with the GOP when necessary.(“The IDC does not cut and run. It does not abdicate its responsibilities to the people of the state ofNew York,” said spokesman Rich Azzopardi.)
Gianaris and other Democrats explained they would not be back in the chamber again that evening. They denounced the lines as “outrageous.”
“What they offered us was bad lines for 10 years for a bad amendment,” Gianaris said, repeating his critiquesof the measure and again pleading for a veto. “It’ is outrageous and regressive to the point we have a bad process and a bad product.”
It now seems Cuomo is on his way to signing the lines and the amendment, baking a deal that Senate Democrats so detest. It’s an open question how supportive of their efforts to re-take the chamber Cuomo is. He’seager to miss opportunitiesto endorse them andhappy to appear with Senate Republicans.They add to an, “I can work across the aisle andget. stuff. done.” narrativethat might come in handy some day. (Cough 2016 cough cough.) They also allow him to play Solomonic centrist,balancingRepublican Majority Leader Dean Skelos off of Silver and his merry band, especially when they want to drag Cuomo farther to the left than he’s comfortable.
What say you to that, Gianaris? Is it betrayal? Does it put you at war with the governor?
“I would be disappointed,” he said, before leaving for the night.