‘Substantially the same’? Redistricting maps tell a different story than Cuomo’s

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave his stamp of approval to the legislature’s redistricting plans for the state Senate and Assembly, he said one reason he approved the maps was that casting a veto would have made little difference. Judging from the congressional lines drawn by Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann, Cuomo said, a veto that put her in charge of the Senate and Assembly process would barely have changed the result.

“Once I saw the congressional lines that the magistrate did draw,” Cuomo said Thursday on Susan Arbetter’s Capitol Pressroom radio show, “what I concluded, Susan, was even if I veto and it goes to the magistrate, the lines are going to come back substantially the same as they were. That’s what happened on the congressional lines.”

But there’s one problem with Cuomo’s analysis, as the New York Times editorial page and Wall Street Journal have pointed out – Judge Mann’s Congressional maps are in fact quite different from the legislature’s. The discrepancies are particularly acute in New York City. With data from CUNY’s Center for Urban Research, The New York World produced this map to contrast Judge Mann’s proposed congressional lines with the plans submitted to her court by the Assembly and Senate.

The GOP majority in the Senate and the Democratic majority of the Assembly submitted separate proposals for Congressional maps, neither of which were ever voted on. The discrepancies between Mann’s plan and both the legislature’s proposals are significant.

Mann’s lines for the 8th Congressional district based in southern Brooklyn keep the district entirely in Brooklyn, while the Senate’s plan shoots up into Queens, and the Assembly’s swoops into Manhattan.

Mann proposes a compact 6th Congressional district in eastern Queens, the Senate and Assembly split eastern Queens and their closest approximations of the district extend north as far as Westchester. In southern Manhattan, Mann and the Assembly propose a split between two Congressional districts, while the Senate keeps it together.

“You pick almost any New York City district, and the outlines are different,” said Steven Romalewski of the CUNY Mapping Service, who developed the side-by-side maps comparing the different proposals.

Cuomo’s office did not respond by deadline to our inquiries about the discrepancies between the maps. But on Arbetter’s radio show, Cuomo said the key similarity between Mann’s map and the legislature’s proposals was that both protected incumbents.

“I believe the magistrate clearly took incumbency into consideration,” Cuomo said. “The magistrate’s congressional lines, almost every incumbent has the same district. It can’t be, unless you took incumbency into consideration. So if to go all through this and have a magistrate give lines back to the legislature which was substantially the same would have been a terrible defeat.”

The treatment of incumbents was a significant point of contention in the redistricting process. Reform groups such as Common Cause, which had urged Cuomo to veto the legislature’s plans for the Senate and Assembly, called for the maps to be drawn without consideration of where incumbents lived.

But the order from the three-judge panel that appointed Mann established a broad set of criteria that went far beyond the issue of incumbent residency. It called for districts to have equal population and comply with the federal Voting Rights Act, as well as be “compact, contiguous, respect political subdivisions, and preserve communities of interest.”

Romalewski of CUNY Mapping Service said that “when you look at contiguity and compactness, Mann’s proposal on the face of it respects those principles more” than the legislature did.

The legislature’s plan that Cuomo says he intends to approve was opposed by New York State’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, which said it violated the Voting Rights Act by splitting minority communities and weakening their political voice.

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