Partisan politics exerted its stranglehold on the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC), which had been charged with thwarting the form of politically engineered injustice known as “gerrymandering.”
The 10-person board, whose members were appointed by an equal number of state lawmakers from each party, ended their six months of work by announcing a 5-5 split along party lines on Jan. 3. As a result, they submitted two sets of maps to the New York State Legislature, which will compare the district boundaries recommended by the Democrats and the Republicans, and come to a final decision.
While the IRC’s Republicans and Democrats diverged regarding redistricting recommendations for Long Island and upstate, that was not the case in the Rivertowns. In both versions, Hastings and Ardsley are moved from the 16th Congressional District, represented by Jamaal Bowman, to the 17th Congressional District, represented by Mondaire Jones. In addition, both sets of maps keep the Rivertowns in the 35th State Senate District and the 92nd State Assembly District, represented by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assemblyman Tom Abinanti.
The IRC was convened last summer, as mandated by a 2014 amendment to the state’s constitution that directed a commission to be formed to redraw district lines every 10 years based on new census results. In the event the IRC was unable to agree on a plan by the Jan. 1 deadline, the law required the commission to submit “all plans in its possession, both completed and in draft form, and the data upon which the plans are based.”
This data was compiled from 24 public hearings held throughout the state during the second half of 2021, both in person and online, as well as written correspondence from the public.
The commission was charged to consider not only geographic population totals but also “communities of interest” — areas with distinctive cultural, racial, or language characteristics — so as not to fragment them into multiple districts in a way that would deprive those distinctive groups of their voting power. The desire to maintain cultural identity in communities was a theme through the more than 550 written comments submitted to the IRC from all over the state, as well as comments expressed at the hearings.
The Jan. 3 meeting ran for 36 minutes, most of which consisted of the commission’s Democrats and Republicans accusing each other of refusing to compromise, collaborate, or make agreed-upon changes to their maps.
Democrat David Imamura, an attorney from Irvington who chaired the commission, charged the Republican members with being indifferent to the public’s comments, while the Republicans contended they had tried to reach consensus with the Democrats, but had been rebuffed. During the meeting, Imamura stated that the process taught him how many districts “had been systematically stripped” of their vote.
“I believe it was the fervent wish of every commissioner to achieve a single map,” Imamura said. “What has disappointed me most about my Republican colleagues has been their indifference to public comment and their refusal to put pen to paper” to submit redrawn maps. Nevertheless, Imamura said, he was impressed by the public’s participation in the process. “I am proud we are submitting to the Legislature the testimony of over 3,000 people,” he said. “It has been an incredible experience.”
Commission vice-chair Jack Martins of Old Westbury, Long Island, a Republican attorney and former state senator, challenged Imamura’s interpretation of the Republicans’ behavior as “how you choose to characterize it.”
“We as a commission handled our hearings through the end of November. We agreed to put together a set of consensus maps,” he said. Martins accused the Democrats of ignoring public input, and stated that the Democrats’ maps, presented on Dec. 21, were only “slight variations of the maps they had presented in September, all the while claiming those maps represent the testimony heard in the state.”
Imamura’s frustration came through in a phone interview after the Jan. 3 meeting. “We gave them a map that incorporated what we thought we negotiated,” he said. “We asked them for a counterproposal and they never gave us one.” He added that the Democrats’ December map of the congressional districts in Westchester was “completely different from September — because we listened to the 3,000 comments.”
To see the maps, read the public’s comments, and view videos of the public hearings, visit nyirc.gov.