The New York State GOP continues its attempt to dilute the voting power of the state’s people of color.
Last week, the New York Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment presented its proposed district lines that would dictate much of the state’s politics for the next 10 years. The new district lines would give Queens its first Asian-majority district and Brooklyn its first real Orthodox Jewish-majority district. The Asian-majority district would be based in Flushing and the Orthodox Jewish district would be in mostly Borough Park and consolidate the five current districts where the borough’s Orthodox now primarily reside.
However, that news pales in comparison to what’s being done to communities of color up and down the state in an attempt to take the power away from the people.
If the maps made by the GOP-dominated task force are approved, State Sen. Eric Adams’ residence would be drawn into State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery’s district, District 25, and the constituents that Adams represents now would be part of a brand-new district with no Senate representative. None of the potential suitors for that seat would be an incumbent.
“It just goes to show the level of mischief, and it borders on harassment,” Montgomery told the AmNews. “Because the fact of the matter is that Senator Eric Adams’ residence is one block into my district out of his own district, and not only that but the line that the proposed plan has swings down for only one reason, and that is to pick up his residence and place it into my district. So, they have drawn a district that I have represented mostly for the last decade. There’s no rhyme or reason to this process.”
State Senate Minority Leader John Sampson believes there is a rhyme and a reason to this…and it’s all part of the state’s right-wing plan to get the people talking. “My gut reaction was, ‘Are they for real?’” said Sampson about when he first checked out the newly proposed district lines. “And basically, I went through this situation in 2002. This is what you call the typical bait and switch. They sent out the most egregious lines to get people in an uproar, and eventually they’ll produce one from their back pocket that’s less egregious but still violates the basic principle that the people choose the representatives and not the representatives choose the people.”
According to Sampson, and confirmed by the proposed lines, Rochester’s majority Black district would be split into three and would usurp any voting power that the city’s minority population possesses. Also, State Sen. Mark Grisanti’s district in Buffalo, which is currently 37 percent Black, would be 5 percent Black on the newly drawn lists, giving him a “safer” seat. He narrowly won his election in 2010. Grisanti knows he’s been dealt a good hand. He stated as much to the Buffalo News on Tuesday.
“It’s definitely better,” Grisanti said. “But I had a lot of crossover votes when I ran last time…I’m hoping people just say that ‘Mark puts people first and not politics,’ and let’s move forward.”
While Grisanti might put people first, some may accuse the party he belongs to of not following suit.
The Senate GOP looks like they want to make up for the lost population over the past decade, as many young adults have moved either downstate or out of the state altogether. To do that, they added a 63rd district in the Hudson Valley, which splits up a mostly Democratic Albany County. This was purposefully done and it’s not for the reason mentioned above, according to one organization. According to the members of Common Cause NY, a nonpartisan organization that produced district maps of their own, if there a 63rd district was added, it would have to be downstate because of the increase in New York City’s population. Adding representation in upstate, rural areas dilutes where the true power lies: minority, downstate voters.
Sampson believes that there’s yet another reason behind the potential 63rd seat.
“If you want to be honest, there wouldn’t be justification for the 63rd seat if it wasn’t for the prison issue,” Sampson said. The “prison issue” he mentioned stems from last year’s upholding of a state law that requires inmates to becounted as part of the home district’s population and not in the district where they’re held behind bars. This practice was used to bolster the numbers of rural populations for the sake of drawing district lines for many years.
Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of how the GOP wants to dilute the power of the Black vote. In Long Island, Nassau and Suffolk counties have seen increases in their Latino population and many towns are predominantly Black. The new district maps don’t create a majority- or close to majority-Hispanic district in Suffolk County and it failed to create what’s considered an effective 50 percent or more minority district in Nassau County. But Nassau meets all of the legal Voting Rights Act tests.
New York State Democratic spokesperson Mike Murphy emailed a study to the AmNews that breaks down exactly how Nassau and Suffolk counties are getting the short end of the stick. According to Murphy, “Long Island’s total non-Hispanic white population (all ages) declined by 89,228 (4.1 percent) during the 1990s, and by a further 159,315 (7.6 percent) in the 2000s.
“Long Island’s total population nevertheless grew by 5.5 percent during the 1990s and by 2.9 percent in the 2000s, keeping pace with the statewide growth rate and maintaining Long Island’s share of representation in the State Senate only because the growth of minority-group populations more than offset the decline in the non-Hispanic white population.” However, Murphy says the 2012 Senate proposal minimizes the role of minority voters in electing Long Island’s state Senate delegation. Sampson agrees.
“In Hempstead, they divided almost the entire minority population up in order to protect the Republican majority,” Sampson said.
But all of the power rests with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. While he’s a Democrat in name, there’s still a fear of appeasing the Republican majority in the Senate to keep the peace, but there’s hope. During a question and answer session last Friday, Cuomo said if the proposed lines came to him without any changes, he’d veto it.
“I think anyone who looks at those maps sees political machinations,” said Cuomo. “You don’t have to look hard.”
If Cuomo is a man of his word, the Democrats are in the clear, but as Sampson stated earlier, the party and its supporters have to look out for the potentially revised list and be just as vigilant about alleged gerrymandering. The Senate minority leader also knows it’s the process that can drive people away from politics. He hopes jaded, cynical voters don’t give up.
“It’s not about the lines with us. It’s the process,” said Sampson. “As long as it’s dictated by partisan politics, voters and minorities will always be disenfranchised. When you talk about Martin Luther King, whose birthday we just celebrated, and Black History Month, which is happening now, until we understand that all people deserve to choose their representatives, we will always continue to fight what Dr. King fought.”