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Redistricting task force may not release plan for Congress

In the last two rounds of redistricting, a federal court stepped in when state legislators failed to reach agreement

Judge Dora Irizarry, pictured here at Bronx Republican Party headquarters in 2002 before announcing a run for state attorney general, has convened a panel that may decide New York's legislative district lines. AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser

As New York’s state redistricting task force completes its final hearings, a key element of its plans continues to be missing in action: its maps for Congress. Amid growing angst among politicians and good-government organizations, leaders on both sides of the aisle say a proposal for Congress will be released within 10 days.

But a look at recent history – and a ruling on Monday by a federal judge overseeing the redistricting process – suggests that the task force may not end up releasing plans for Congress at all.

“The question is not what and when,” said Todd Breitbart, a former Democratic staffer for the Legislative Task Force on Redistricting and Reapportionment (LATFOR), of the as-yet unreleased plans for Congress. “The question is whether.”

In the previous two redistricting cycles, maps for Congress have in fact been drawn by a court-appointed special master or referee after the clock ran down to the wire while LATFOR was unable to agree on a proposal. This year, time is even shorter. Congressional primaries have been set for June 26, which means that lines must be in place by late March.

On Monday, Judge Dora Irizarry took a significant step toward once again taking the matter out of the hands of the legislature and into the control of the courts. In a ruling that pointedly cited LATFOR’s “current state of inaction” in drawing Congressional maps, Irizarry called for the formation of a three-judge panel with authority to appoint a special master to draw boundaries in their place.

The political and judicial redistricting processes will now proceed on parallel tracks, unless the judges eventually decide that time has run out on the legislature. They could then order the adoption of the maps drawn by their special master.

Leaders of LATFOR said that the court’s skepticism was unwarranted.

“We’ve got a schedule and we’re keeping to the schedule, and I’m not getting into the legal machinations,” said John McEneny (D-Albany), the LATFOR co-chair in charge of the Democratic-led redistricting in the Assembly. “I expect we’ll be done next week, period.”

Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Republicans, said he expected a proposal to be released “within a week to 10 days.”

Such a proposal would not only represent a step that LATFOR had been unable to accomplish in the last 30 years, but also a triumph of last-minute bargaining. Republicans and Democrats on the task force are preparing competing proposals for Congressional maps, and have yet to begin negotiating between them. McEneny acknowledged that the two parties “haven’t even studied each other’s plans.”

“As we speak on February 14, there’s nowhere near an agreement on what a Congressional plan will look like,” said an attorney close to the redistricting process.

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