“Reforming Albany begins with making sure we have fair district lines and competitive elections.” So states Assemblyman George Latimer (D-Westchester, 91st A.D.) in outlining the first plank in his agenda for reform in Albany. “As long as we have district lines that are drawn to benefit incumbents, we will have precious little change in the way issues are decided,” Mr. Latimer added.
Mr. Latimer is a co-sponsor of Assembly Bill A.5279 – introduced by prime sponsor Assemblyman Mike Gianaris of Queens – which would establish an apportionment commission to create new district lines for congressional and state legislative districts based on the population changes that are identified in the 2010 Census. This commission would operate independently of the current structure, which is controlled by the majority in each house of the legislature and which tends to draw district lines to favor their own party needs. The new Reapportionment Commission would be comprised of appointees from the legislative leaders, both majority and minority representatives, who would select 3 additional members, maintaining a balance that precludes one-party control of redistricting.
“We need this bill as one part of a long list of reform bills that would change Albany – and it is timely, since we are within two years of the next census,” Assemblyman Latimer continued.
In 2001, Mr. Latimer served as chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators and was credited as the architect of the most fair redistricting plan in Westchester County history: two representatives of the County League of Women Voters were empaneled to serve on the committee as non-voting members to insure fair practices; public hearings were held before the plan was adopted to gain community input; majority Democrats did not place two incumbent minority Republicans in the same legislative district, as was the common occurance in past years when Republicans led the county legislature; efforts were made to decrease the number of communities divided into more than one legislative district (the 2001 plan reunited sections of Scarsdale and Mamaroneck Village divided in a prior plan into separate districts); ethnic minorities had four “opportunity” districts created to increase minority representation on the Board of Legislators, in compliance with federal law and judicial rulings. The 2001 County plan was adopted without a challenging lawsuit – the only plan locally in that cycle to avoid a court test.
“My county experience in 2001 was that a fair plan could be created and adopted,” Mr. Latimer continued, “and I’d like to see that fairness in place in State redistricting in 2011-12.” The Assembly bill can be viewed on line at www.assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?bn=A5279 .
Mr. Latimer is joined by 37 other co-sponsors of the Gianaris bill in the Assembly; no State Senate version has yet been introduced. The bill is under consideration in the Assembly’s Governmental Operations Committee of which Mr. Latimer is a member.