http://www.newsday.com/columnists/dan-janison/democrats-savor-redistricting-decision-1.3133500Democrats savor redistricting decision
August 30, 2011 by DAN JANISON / email@example.com
The fact that all seven judges on the state's top court joined in demolishing the NassauRepublicans' attempt at a quickie redistricting gave Democrats -- for the moment -- the coveted high ground.
The unanimous ruling -- predicted by neither side -- allowed state and NassauDemocratic chairman Jay Jacobs to trumpet the fact that Republican Gov.George Pataki appointed four of those judges.
It even led Jacobs to publicly suggest for the first time that the previous midlevel 3-2 appellate ruling in Brooklyn, favoring the GOP, looked suspiciously "like a political decision" rather than a legal one.
"I can't make an accusation per se," he said. "There is something political there, I believe, in that case. We're looking into it. I'm not satisfied there wasn't politics."
The outcome also gave Jacobs a chance to crow that August has been "a very bad month" for Nassau's GOP leaders -- who, he contended, "wasted" $2 million on a rejected Coliseum bond referendum, and then spent further resources on legal fees and software for their abortive "power grab."
Soon, Democrats will get to argue in court that Republican and Conservative candidates in four districts must face unplanned primary races against each other -- because of the way they submitted their petitions under their redistricting strategy.
And so, the out-of-power county Democrats get a big rhetorical windfall from this court decision.
But the practical plusses for the Democrats have clear limits.
The Republican camp, for one, cited the court finding the legislature's approval of lines in May was not itself wrongful -- only the attempt to enact them for 2011 rather than 2013.
"We are disappointed by the delay in implementing the new plan," County Attorney John Ciampoli said in a statement. "Nonetheless," he said, the new map as voted up in May "sets the base line for a fair and proper apportionment of legislative districts."
Note that Republican Edward Mangano's term as county executive runs through 2013, when a new district map must take hold for real.
So, even if Democrats were to win back a legislative majority in November, they'd need an unlikely two-thirds majority to pass their own redistricting plan over a Mangano veto.
Bottom line: Even after some Democratic objections to the current redistricting are accommodated, the new map may end up similar in key ways to the GOP's current version.
Another limit on the Democratic win is that it sets no legal precedent for the ongoing fight over redistricting on a state level due to take effect for the 2012 state and federal legislative elections.
Just the same, the state Senate Democrats, now in the minority, tried to frame the Nassau case as part of that fight, terming Ciampoli "a longtime close associate" of Majority LeaderDean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). "The courts and the public will not stand for a rigged process," declared Democratic conference spokesman Mike Murphy. "This is a major defeat for Senator Skelos and the Senate Republicans."
But GOP majority spokesman Scott Reif replied: "It's sad that the chronically dysfunctional Senate Democrats have to inject politics into everything, but New Yorkers know better than to trust them on taxes, on spending or on anything else."
In Nassau, where the ruling's impact lies, the contours of September's primary and November's election now return to what was widely expected before three months of litigation intervened.