Don’t let lawmakers draw their districts


MARCH 28, 2010
    In 2004, at the end of my fourth term as a New York state senator, I heard that the Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno, wanted to talk to me. It was the beginning of the decennial state redistricting, and Mr. Bruno showed me a map of his plan for Brooklyn — which had my district cut into pieces and allocated to other senators.
    "We'll give you the safest seat in Brooklyn," he said, along with about $2 million in member items — discretionary money that senators get to dole out to constituents — considerably more than the $130,000 a year I had been receiving. All I had to do was become a Republican, or at least support him as the majority leader.
    I declined his offer, and still managed to win. But the experience brought home to me the way that the state's redistricting system creates almost lifetime tenure for elected officials and an almost imperial level of control for the majority leadership. Separating it from political influence must therefore be high on any reform agenda.
    The Legislature should create a panel of distinguished citizens, perhaps including a few legislators, which would submit three plans for .redistricting; the Legislature could choose one of them, but could not alter it.
    The Legislature should also take the process of disbursing member items out of .the majority leader’s hands, and create an objective scale for determining the amount given to each legislator.
    In the last statewide election, in 2008, many Democratic candidates stressed the need to reform the legislative process in the Senate. They gained the majority, but unfortunately the reform agenda is still on hold.