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December 10, 2016
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Submitted plans eliminate Hinchey’s district; Special master to redraw districts

ALBANY, NY — In order to comply with the results of the 2010 census, New York State must drop from 29 congressional districts to 27, and the deadline for deciding how the districts will look is approaching quickly. The new lines must be decided by March 12 so congressional candidates can start collecting signatures for the primary election in June.

Two proposed sets of plans were unveiled last week: one by the Senate with a Republican majority and the other by the Assembly with a Democratic majority. One thing the plans have in common is that the 22nd Congressional District, now held by Congressman Maurice Hinchey who is retiring at the end of the year, will be eliminated.

Both plans would move parts of Sullivan and Ulster counties into the district now represented by Congressman Chris Gibson, a Republican whose current district surrounds the two counties and stretches from Poughkeepsie up to Saranac Lake.

The Orange county portion of Hinchey’s district would be treated differently under the two plans. Under the Senate plan, the Orange County section, which includes Middletown and Newburgh, would be shifted into Republican Nan Hayworth’s district, and she would also lose much of the rest of Orange County.

Under the Assembly’s plan, Hinchey’s portion of Orange, along with most of the rest of the county, would go to Gibson’s district.

Sullivan County would be treated very differently under the two maps. In the Assembly plan, Sullivan County would go into a district that includes most of Orange, part of Ulster, all of Delaware, Greene, Columbia, Rensselaer, and part of Saratoga and Washington, which would be a district that would be more likely to favor a Democrat during an election.

Under the Senate plan, most of Sullivan would be separated from Orange and Ulster. Instead, Sullivan, excluding the populous towns of Mamakating and Fallsburg, would be joined with all of Delaware, Greene, Broome, Chenango, Schoharie, Madison, Otsego, Madison and part of Oneida, which would be a district that would be more likely to favor a Republican during an election.

In both plans, the slice of Hinchey’s district that reaches through Tioga County and up into Tompkins and the Democratic stronghold of Ithaca, would no longer be connected to the same district as Sullivan County. Ithaca would be shifted into the district of Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle, a Republican.

The plans have been submitted to U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann, who has been appointed by a three-judge panel to draw up the new congressional districts because the Senate and Assembly could not agree on the new districts.

Buerkle has sent a letter to the judge asking her to reject both proposals because, “These proposed districts were not drawn based on compactness, geography, or commonality of interests, but for purely partisan reasons.”

It’s a charge that many agree with. Common Cause of New York, which has drawn its own set of maps that have also been submitted to Mann, has complained bitterly about the process. Susan Lerner, executive director, said in a press release, “As they have for decades, the Democratic majority in the Assembly and the Republican majority in the Senate produced electoral lines to protect their political interests, at great cost to the public interest.”

Two candidates from near Ithaca, who would have been running for Hinchey’s seat, spoke about the redistricting process.

Dan Lamb, a long-time aide to Congressman Maurice Hinchey who lives in the western reaches of district, said he is disappointed. He said the two versions submitted are “irreconcilable” and because the legislature could not come up with a solution, the magistrate must now decide what happens.

He said, “It’s short-changing the voters; the primary is on June 20.” Voters don’t know who they will be voting for, and candidates, such as Lamb, don’t know exactly where they will be running.

Lamb said he thinks the districts drawn up by Common Cause NY are preferable to the two produced by the legislature. He said, “Those maps are easy to defend. They achieve a goal of putting about 717,000 in each district, and try to find a sense of common purpose geographically” in each district.

In the same general area of Hinchey’s district, near Ithaca, Leslie Danks Burke is also running for office even though she is not sure of the shape of her future district. She said, “Anything is possible at this point. I will run regardless of where I am put. I am a Democrat running and it doesn’t appear to be geographically possible to put me into a district with an incumbent Democrat,” so she will ultimately be running against a Republican.

Asked if there is a better way to do redistricting, she said, “I am not an Albany insider, so I’m not familiar with all the ins and outs. But looking at this from the outside, it does appear to be very confusing to the voters, and the voters don’t know, just three or four months before the primary, who they will be voting for and I think that’s problematic.

Regarding the shortened campaign process because of redistricting, she said, “Well, it’s an expedited schedule certainly. But I’m fortunate because I launched my campaign back at the beginning of February and raised a great deal of money and support. I raised over $100,000 in my first week of fundraising, so that says there are a lot of people who are interested in my campaign regardless of where it ends up being located.”