Nearly 60 protesters gathered on March 29 to chide state Sen. Jack Martins, of Elmont, for a promise they say Martins did not keep. The group included local and state redistricting reform activists, who are angry that despite legislation Martins pledged to pass last summer, independent redistricting will not be mandated in New York state until 2022.
Last year Martins signed former New York City Mayor Ed Koch’s New York Uprising pledge, promising that, if elected, he would pass Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recently proposed legislation to create independent redistricting of legislative districts — which protesters said would eliminate a tool that Assembly and Senate majorities have long used to maintain power: gerrymandering.
Ben Kallos, executive director of the New Roosevelt Initiative, one of the groups that took part in the rally, said that gerrymandering has been used by the State Legislature for decades so that it could achieve desired electoral results. The Legislature currently has the constitutional power to draw its own lines, but independent redistricting, Kallos said, would create an independent, bipartisan commission that would gather input from public hearings.
However, he added, when Martins had the opportunity to pass the independent redistricting amendment to the state constitution, he decided to side with the Republican Senate majority and “half pass” it. The measure will not go into effect until 2022, Kallos explained.
“That’s a decade of waiting for Martins to make good on his promise,” he said, adding that the pledge that Martins signed before being elected to the Senate was to introduce redistricting in 2012. “We need independent redistricting now,” Kallos said, “so that we have something in place for 2012.”
Additionally, he explained, the Senate-passed amendment allows districts’ populations to differ by as much as 10 percent, which gives the Legislature more flexibility in how it draws lines. “This Legislature is big on keeping secrets from the public,” Kallos said.