New Paltz, NY – The complex process of reshaping political boundaries is taking place across New York. WAMC's Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Greg Fry reports that the battle over where to draw political lines is growing more intense
Last September, supporters of the reapportionment process explained by Ulster County officials stood in Kingston, and spoke of the need for an open and fair process, which would shape the way legislative districts are drawn over the next decade. It even drew the praise of good-government groups on the state level, who made mention of the lessons that the New York state legislature could learn from the model being used in the Hudson Valley county.
In Ulster County, 33 legislative districts will turn to 23 at the end of the year, and districts once represented by multiple lawmakers will soon turn to single-member representation. Gerald Benjamin is a distinguished professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz, and has been a key voice throughout the process of re-tooling the county's government in recent years. Benjamin says Ulster County is leading in reform, while mentioning the efforts of some, most notably former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who are trying to bring a similar, independent re-redistricting process to the state level.
Benjamin is now expressing concern about the process by which district lines are being re-drawn in the county. A seven-member commission, made up of legislative-chosen appointees, is drawing closer toward completing its work. Benjamin is worried that the panel is seriously considering a weighted voting system for representatives.
The concern is that weighted voting does not take into account other aspects of a lawmaker's responsibility, including committee assignments outside of votes cast when the full legislative body meets. Benjamin explains the ultimate goal to provide for this year's upcoming elections, while driving the process to closure, in accordance with the description of the process.
In nearby Dutchess County, the redistricting process is just getting underway. Lawmakers heard from Benjamin during a meeting Tuesday night. There's been criticism of the process in that county, including concerns raised that an independent process was eliminated by Republicans in control of the county's legislature. Legislative Chairman Rob Rolison says they are in the early stages, but disagrees with the notion that politics will play a key role in this process. He says in the end, you aren't going to be able to please everyone.