The New York State Independent Redistricting Commission, the body tasked with redrawing the state’s political boundaries that will remain in place for the next decade, failed to reach a consensus Monday, instead voting along party lines to send two sets of maps to the state Legislature for approval.
Despite differences, both proposals would keep Schenectady within the 20th Congressional District along with the neighboring cities of Albany and Troy. Previous proposals showed the Electric City splintered off from its Capital Region neighbors, prompting concerns from mayors of all three cities, which share, among other things, a transit service, regional planning services and have a similar demographic makeup.
The city of Amsterdam, home of the district’s long-time Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko, would also remain within the 20th District. Previous maps showed the city moved into the 21st Congressional District, which is represented by Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, and raised questions over whether Tonko, now in his seventh term, would continue to serve the district.
A final map must still be approved by the Democratic-controlled state Legislature.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said the proposed maps are a positive development for the city and reflect concerns raised by local leaders and residents throughout the Capital Region.
“While I’m disappointed they didn’t move forward on [a] unanimous decision, [the commission] moved forward on plans that would keep Albany, Schenectady and Troy within the same Congressional district, and I believe that’s in the best interest of our respective communities and the region as a whole,” he said. “I’m pleased that that’s going to the Legislature and I would encourage the leadership within the Legislature to again adopt the Congressional district that keeps the three cities together.”
Commission members failed to reach a consensus for a final plan following months of work that included 24 virtual and in-person meetings across the state, and thousands of pages of public input. The 10-member, bipartisan body voted 5-5 along party lines to send both sets of maps to the Legislature for approval without discussing either before voting.
Instead, commissioners on Monday accused their political counterparts of walking away from the table before a compromise could be reached.
“Throughout this process what has disappointed me the most about my Republican colleagues is their seeming indifference to public input and an unwillingness to put pen to paper to modify their maps,” said David Imamura, Democratic chair of the commission.
Jack Martins, the Republican deputy commissioner, said Imamura’s statements did not coincide with reality and accused the Democrats of walking away from the table without explanation.
Both sides thanked the public for their input throughout the process.
“We let the state down, we let all the people who participated in this process down by not coming to a consensus,” Martins said.
It’s the first time the Independent Redistricting Commission has been charged with creating new political boundaries after voters in 2014 approved a state constitutional amendment creating the body as a way of taking the task out of the hands of the Legislature.
But the Legislature still has final authority in how the political boundaries are redrawn and may be tasked with redrafting the districts as a whole moving forward.
Lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate must vote to approve a final map by a two-thirds majority before a final bill is sent to the governor’s office. If the Legislature rejects the maps or the bill is vetoed, the commission must resubmit new maps within 15 days or no later than Feb. 28.
If plans are rejected again, the Legislature is tasked with redrawing the maps.
Final boundaries will shape the political future of the state for the next decade.
Currently, 19 of the state’s 27 congressional seats are controlled by Democrats. The state, however, is losing a seat following last year’s census, which revealed other states experienced more population gains.
In addition to the future of Congress, the future of the state’s Legislature hangs in the balance as well. Currently, the Assembly and Senate are controlled by Democrats.
Plans are expected to be finalized in time for June’s primary.
In a statement, Tonko said the proposed boundaries “reflect the will of the people,” but noted the process has yet to be completed.
“The Independent Commission put forth maps this morning that reflect what Capital Region residents have told both our campaign and the commission what they want; to keep our district together as one unified voice in Congress as it has been for decades,” he said. “The process isn’t over, but it’s clear the commission is on a path that reflects the will of the people.”
McCarthy, meanwhile, said Tonko has represented the district well and believes it’s in the region’s best interest to have him continue to serve the district.
“Paul Tonko has served this region very well for a very long time. We’re lucky to have him representing us,” he said. “The reality in Congress is that seniority is important. He’s been there a while and starting to move up and is better able to serve the needs of these communities.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.