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The Empire Stakes, 2012

N.Y. Redistricting Is Already a Hot Topic as Seat Loss Looms

Could a special state Senate election on Long Island next month possibly matter in the corridors of Congress?

It sure could — especially if you’re one of the six Republicans remaining in New York state’s Congressional delegation.

If the Democrats win the Republican-held open seat — and prognosticators say there’s an even chance that they can — they will need to pick up just two more seats in 2008 to grab control of the state Senate for the first time since the early 1960s. And if that happens, they’ll have a monopoly in state government for the first time in more than half a century.

The implications for Congressional and legislative redistricting following the 2010 Census — when New York is expected to lose at least one House seat — could be staggering. Democrats already hold a 23-6 edge in the Empire State House delegation, and some party stalwarts believe that gap can be widened further.

“I don’t know that there’s any Republican Member from New York who is safe,” said Evan Stavisky, a New York-based Democratic consultant and lobbyist. “Some creative redistricting would mean terrible news for [Rep. Vito] Fossella (R-N.Y.), for [Rep. Peter] King (R-N.Y.), for all the people who were targeted before.”

But the giddy New York Democrats who contemplate a total sweep in Albany may collide with the reform-minded instincts of the state’s newly elected governor, Eliot Spitzer (D). Spitzer, who racked up a landslide victory in November, has vowed to take the job of redistricting away from the Legislature and place it in the hands of an independent commission. He reiterated that call during his State of the State speech two weeks ago, saying, “More competitive elections will lead to a more responsive government.”

One veteran of New York’s political wars, Rep. Tom Reynolds (R), expressed skepticism that Spitzer will get his way.

“He’s not the first governor, nor will he be the last, calling for that,” said Reynolds, who is a former state Assembly Minority Leader. “History says the two legislative leaders will not want to defer to an independent commission. They never have.”

But the push for redistricting reform doesn’t end with Spitzer. Two state Assembly committees are conducting a series of hearings around the state on the remapping process, and may eventually produce legislation to change the current system.

“I think an independent commission, given certain guidelines, would be the most objective” way to draw the lines, said RoAnn Destito (D), chairwoman of the Joint Assembly Standing Committee on Governmental Operations.

This is hardly what the most partisan of Democrats — who have chafed at having to share power in Albany for decades — were envisioning when Spitzer became the first Democratic governor in a dozen years. In addition to being shut out of the governor’s mansion for all that time despite the Democratic lean of the state, Democrats have had to cope with a split Legislature for 32 years: Democrats have long dominated the Assembly and Republicans have long controlled the Senate.

During the round of redistricting that followed the 2000 Census, Congressional and legislative lines were hammered out by the legislative leaders along with then-Gov. George Pataki (R). The House map was drawn to produce an 18-11 advantage for Democrats.

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