Jerry Kremer

Map-making is a cruel business


Politics is generally of little interest to the average citizen. Getting to and from work, taking care of family needs and trying to have a little joy is much more important. Most people don’t think of politicians as people, and the daily machinations of the political world often go unnoticed. But elected officials are human beings, and the system in which they live can be a very cruel one.
The State Legislature recently approved new district maps that will play a decisive role in determining which candidate will represent you in Albany and Washington. For some of the incumbents, the new lines were pretty much the same as the districts they have represented. For a few others, however, the proposed maps are either the end of their political careers or the beginning of a life-or-death campaign for survival.
On Long Island, there were two notable changes, both affecting Democratic incumbents. State Sen. John Brooks saw most of his current mid-Island 8th District disappear, and had to decide whether to run for re-election in the newly drawn 5th District. At first he chose not to run, but then he did an about-face, and will run for the seat in the new district after all. Brooks is a dedicated official, and he fought successfully this year to get Gov. Kathy Hochul to give Long Island a massive increase in school aid — but the mapmakers don’t reward devoted public service.
State Sen. Jim Gaughran currently represents the 5th District, which for now stretches from Glen Cove, in Nassau County, to Commack, in Suffolk County. Gaughran has been a Huntington Town Board member, a Suffolk County legislator, chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority and a strong environmental advocate in the State Senate. He is respected by both parties. But the mapmakers eliminated most of his 5th District, and facing an impossible uphill battle, Gaughran decided to leave the political arena.
The most notable change in the electoral map is taking place in Manhattan, where two long-serving members of Congress will now face each other in a primary contest. Under the old district lines, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney represented most of the Upper East Side, and Rep. Gerald Nadler represented the West Side, both for more than 25 years. When the maps were redrawn, Maloney and Nadler were thrown into the same district. Nadler suggested that Maloney run in an adjoining district, but since most of the new district is in her old territory, she declined to run elsewhere.

This battle of two senior members, who have been good friends and hold major committee chairmanships, made me recall my own history on the subject of legislative reapportionment. Back in the 1970s, when new State Assembly district lines were drawn, my South Shore district was combined with that of the late Assemblyman Eli Wager, a friend and fellow Long Island Democrat. Wager and I attempted to resolve our dicey situation by proposing that one of us run for the State Senate. That compromise ended quickly when attorney Karen Burstein announced that she was running for the Senate.
Imagine what it’s like when two elected officials who sat together in the same office, and have close family ties, are forced into a public battle for survival. There could be only one winner, and for 60-plus days we battled each other with every ounce of energy. On primary night, I was declared the winner by a margin of 1,800 votes, but the bitterness lingered for a number of years.
When colleagues are pitted against one another, there is rarely a happy ending. Luckily, months later, I got a call from then Gov. Hugh Carey, asking whether it was OK with me if he appointed Wager to the State Supreme Court. I encouraged Carey to make that move, and two elections later, Wager won a 14-year term on that court, where he served with distinction.
No one can predict who will win the battle between Representatives Maloney and Nadler, but when it’s over the public will have lost one great public servant. The redrawing of district lines is required by law every 10 years. It primarily involves a juggling of constituent numbers, and is a heartless process. Sadly, there are few happy endings when the final vote count is announced, which is what makes this process so cruel.

Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column?