Assemblyman Robert Castelli, who represents much of northeast Westchester, objects to the proposed new lines for his district as a continuation of partisan gerrymandering from 10 years ago. Here is his statement:
GHOST OF ELBRIDGE GERRY VISITS ALBANY
Recently, an account published by media outlets said that if Assemblyman Robert J. Castelli (R, C – Goldens Bridge) was re-elected in 2012, that “the seat would be his for 25 years.”
Notwithstanding the fact that Castelli (the sponsor of term limits legislation) has no plans to remain in Albany beyond his ability to serve effectively, that kind of longevity nevertheless may be guaranteed for many other lawmakers, thanks to decennial redistricting process, and the newly proposed district maps for the State Senate and Assembly.
“Ten years ago, the 89th Assembly District was gerrymandered,” Castelli points out. “And in one of those ironies of politics, it wasn’t gerrymandered to the advantage of one party or another, but more so to give one person in the same party a competitive advantage over another.”
Under the maps shared with lawmakers yesterday, Castelli’s 89th Assembly District is renumbered the 93rd Assembly District, and would add the town of North Salem, along with some adjustments to the district’s boundaries in the City of White Plains.
“In essence, the partisan gerrymandering remains,” Castelli said. “I believe there is still time for us to do better, though, because when politicians are choosing their constituents, instead of the other way around, it’s the people that lose.”
In testimony earlier this year to the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reappointment (LATFOR), the entity responsible for creating the maps, Castelli had expressed hope that a measure of independent redistricting could be accomplished “in the confines that exist, within the parameters of this Committee and our current Constitution.”
Under an independent proposal released by Common Cause, the 89th A.D. would shed the City of White Plains and the towns of New Castle and Mount Kisco, and instead be comprised of the current 89th A.D. towns of Bedford, Lewisboro, Pound Ridge, North Castle, and Harrison, while adding the town of Mount Pleasant, North Salem, and Ossining.
Castelli notes that this configuration is similar to the district’s historical makeup, before it was gerrymandered a decade ago. “The boundaries released by good-government groups create a district that is more compact, linking together communities of interest that are now fragmented, like the Valhalla School District, and the village of Briarcliff,” Castelli said.
The media has recently leveled a heap of criticism on the Senate Majority for not adopting an independent redistricting process. Castelli is quick to note that the Assembly Majority has also failed to bring the Governor’s independent redistricting bill to the floor for a vote.
The alleged issues with the maps in each house are similar. Castelli’s new district, for example, would contain nearly 132,000 residents, well above the mean population of 129,000. According to published accounts, several New York City districts have less than 124,000 people residing in them.
“I enjoy serving this district, and it is my great pleasure to do so,” Castelli said. “The proposed 93rd Assembly District is almost identical to the area that I currently represent, and would not give me any competitive advantage one way or the other. However, the fact remains the district was gerrymandered for partisan purposes and remains so. It should be constructed to serve the best interests of its residents.”
Castelli is the author of his own legislation for independent redistricting (Assembly Bill A5819), which differs from the Governor’s proposal, in that it would adopt a citizens redistricting commission, modeled after the process used in California, rather than an independent panel appointed by the Governor and legislative leaders. He was named a “Hero of Reform” by former New York City Ed Koch for his support of independent redistricting, since he first ran in 2010.
The maps released yesterday are only the first step in the process. There will be a series of public hearings, beginning next week, followed by the release of a revised set of maps. Then lawmakers will have to vote on such a plan, which will then go to the Governor for his approval.