One of the amusing aspects of covering Albany politics is the increasingly bizarre shapes leaders come up with for Legislature districts during the decennial redistricting process.
A glaring example of this is the newly drawn 101st Assembly district, where former 115th district incumbent Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, is running against former Herkimer County Democratic Party chairman Daniel Carter.
A quick glance at the 101st district on a map will make any reasonable person laugh – or wince. The long, serpentine patch of territory begins in Utica, then veers in a narrow swath through parts of Herkimer, Delaware, Ulster and Sullivan counties before ending on Newburgh’s doorstep in Orange County. At roughly 125 miles in length but as narrow as a single township in many points, the district was described by the Albany Times-Union as “made up of misfit towns nobody wants.”
No rationale exists for such district lines other than preserving the balance of power in Albany. And Tenney, speaking to The Daily Star in April after the redistricting plan’s passage, acknowledged the flaws of the territory parceled out for her by the oft-criticized New York State Legislative Task Force on Redistricting and Reapportionment.
“This is obviously going to be a challenge, and I’m working on it,” Tenney said, adding that it took three hours to drive from one end of the district to another to meet constituents.
At one point, Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed to veto a redistricting plan that wasn’t drawn by an independent commission. But somewhere along the line, this threat became nothing more than a bargaining chip with Albany leaders that Cuomo cashed in as leverage on other issues.
A cynic might argue that the governor must choose his battles, and that gerrymandered legislative districts are something he had to tolerate in order win the support he needed to past the rest of his agenda. But the fact remains that Cuomo broke a promise, as did the more than 300 candidates who signed a pledge from former New York City mayor Ed Koch’s New York Uprising group promising to have districts redrawn by an independent commission using Census data.
“We had a governor who not only didn’t hold them to the pledge, but winked,” said Bill Samuels of the EffectiveNY.org think tank in an interview last week with the Associated Press.
The winners in this sham of a process are entrenched Albany incumbents; according to an AP tally, just over 40 have been voted out of office in more than 4,000 races since 1970.
The losers here are voters such as those of the shamefully contorted 101st district, who were hemmed in crudely in a manner befitting cattle, not constituents.