Former Mayor Koch Pleads for Fairness

This past weekend I met with former New York City Mayor Ed Koch to talk about the future of New York politics. He was trying to escape the 100-plus degree heat by staying out on the East End. For many years Koch would visit his sister in Amagansett, though he now usually stays at a good friend’s home in the Hither Hills section of Montauk. Koch is still a tall lion of a man at 86-years-young (he turns 87 on December 12), and he is focused on “fairly” reconstructing the state’s electoral districts.

He explained that a by-product of the 2010 census is that New York State will lose two Congressional seats, which will leave us with only 27 seats in the House of Representatives. According to experts, the 27 new districts will average 719,298 residents each. The existing 29 congressional districts currently average 655,344 residents. This change stems from New York’s population growth rate of 2.19% compared to the national rate of 9.7%.

The New York Legislature has the sole power to create these districts. While there is a legislature commission (six members) on redistricting, it only acts in an advisory role. Both houses must pass a bill that Governor Cuomo would then sign into law. Afterward, the final deal must meet with the approval of  the United States Department of Justice. [expand]

In March 2010, a year after surviving a heart condition crisis, Koch (along with Dick Dady of the Citizen Union Foundation) created NY Uprising. As this former mayor explained to me, the group wants to recreate “good government again in Albany by correcting the redistricting process that is done every 10 years.” He also said that Democratic State Assembly Majority Leader Shelly Silver and Republican State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos are not “evil people,” but he noted that an independent eye is needed.

Before the last election in November 2010, the still-recovering Koch crisscrossed the state to get candidates to take the NY Uprising pledge for an independent approach in the upcoming redistricting process. He named the 350 supporters of his group “Heroes of Reform,” while those who refused to sign the pledge were deemed “Enemies of Reform.” (New York Assemblyman Fred Thiele took the pledge and says he will uphold it; State Senator Ken LaValle also took the pledge, but has since reneged.) Ultimately 138 “Heroes” were elected to the legislature, comprising a majority in each house. However, 31 State senators (including Skelos and LaValle) and 9 State assemblymen have reneged on the pledge. Koch, an optimist, believes he may still be able to convince some of these to come back to his point of view. Governor Cuomo has vowed to veto anything other than a fair, impartial bill to draw the new district lines, and NY Uprising still has the votes in both houses to prevent a veto override.

Stay tuned, Koch pledges to be up and at it again soon, to give all of us in New York State a good fair chance at “lasting good government.” [/expand]

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