2002-04-20 / Editorial/Opinion

The Most Political Act of All

The Most Political Act of All

The redistricting process that takes place each ten years is perhaps the most purely political act of any undertaken by a political body. The process is supposed to be bipartisan. The biggest, most well-known "secret" in Albany, however, is that the Democrats who control the Assembly get to redistrict that body while the Republicans, who control the Senate, get to redistrict that body and never the twain shall meet. An elected official has only one job, and that is to get reelected. Parties have only one duty, and that is to see its members elected to public office. Given those immutable facts of life, redistricting is done to save seats for those already elected and to insure that the party in power in any given political body remains in power. Many years ago, a Massachusetts legislator named Gerry, understanding the fine points of redistricting, drew a district that was so tortuous and ridiculous that it drew the attention of a political cartoonist, who declared that the district looked like a salamander in heat. He called it a Gerrymander, and so the word was born. If you doubt that our legislators today know what a Gerrymander is, take a look at the New York State's Fourteenth Senate District. To our mind, it looks like one of the cartoon characters from the recent movie "Ice Age." We'll call it a "Ferretmander." It begins in central Queens, somewhere north of Forest Park. It looks to be about two or three blocks wide as it moves east toward the Nassau County border. It widens out for a mile or two until it hits that border and then moves south to the area just northeast of JFK Airport. The district line then moves along Rockaway Turnpike, where there are no voters because there are no homes. Skirting the Nassau border, it moves down Sheridan Boulevard in Inwood and then to Far Rockaway. From there, the district takes in all of the Rockaway peninsula, but not Broad Channel. Why was such a convoluted district drawn by a Republican body for a Democratic incumbent? It is considered a "minority district" and is drawn with enough minority votes to insure that a minority wins. That gives up the district to a Democratic candidate while saving other districts, with a mostly White population for Republicans. Now you see it, now you don't. Redistricting is mostly smoke and mirrors and that is what we have once again. Rockaway is not even the most aggrieved of areas. Jewish communities in Brooklyn that were once in one district are now split into five districts. What power base does a community have if it is split five different ways? None at all. What power base does Rockaway have if the majority of voters in its district are on the mainland? None at all. That is the way politics is played these days and the Governor should say no. He has the power to veto the lines. Will he do it? Will pigs fly?

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