City & State: Drawn Out

Written by Jon Lentz on . Posted in Politics.


Some wistful, some still bitter,  the victims of gerrymandering speak out

Some still remember how frustrating it was.

Some say it doesn’t really bother them.

And some still disagree about how exactly it played out.

Ten years on, the victims and the survivors of the last round of gerrymandering in New York offer mixed views on the process and how it altered their lives.

Vincent Gentile, who was a three-term state senator, saw his New York City seat carved up like a side of beef in one of the most controversially redrawn districts that year.

“People now are saying, ‘Oh, look what’s happening,’” Gentile said. “But it’s just a repeat of what happened 10 years ago. They were playing their shenanigans 10 years ago, and they’re doing it again 10 years later.”

Gentile says he was targeted by Senate Republicans who reconfigured the district so then City Councilman Martin Golden could challenge him.

The Staten Island portion of Gentile’s district, which he had won handily in 2000, was cut off, while more conservative portions of Brooklyn were added to help Golden, a former police officer.

“They drew such a twisted district that, to get from Gravesend to Marine Park, they had to connect it with one avenue through Sheepshead Bay,” Gentile said. “And so it looked like a little barbell with the bar in middle. It should have been an easy rejection by the Department of Justice.”

Golden, who won the seat, sees it differently.

“I believe I had nothing to do with the drafting of the seat 10 years ago,” Golden said. “They’re all similar communities, all communities that should be together. And I think it was well put together, and I think we’ve served that community well.”

Not that Gentile holds a grudge. The two are collegial and have partnered on joint initiatives in Brooklyn.

While Gentile went down fighting and landed comfortably in a City Council seat, others find that gerrymandering makes retirement look like the best option.

Ten years ago former Congressman John LaFalce was confronted with a map that combined his district with that of another Democratic incumbent, Rep. Louise Slaughter.

The district seemed favorable to him, but after more than a quarter century in Congress, the new lines dashed his hopes for another reelection bid.

“Raising money had really become an unpleasant necessity,” LaFalce said. “I didn’t like the prospect of having to run against a member of my own party, the prospect of having to run against an incumbent. Also, at that time in 2002 I did not foresee the Democrats regaining a majority in the House of Representatives for some time. In the minority, you just can’t set the agenda.”

For LaFalce, the decision was a good one. He got his Congressional pension, returned to practicing law, joined a number of boards and became a college professor, which he enjoyed immensely.

In other cases, getting gerrymandered out of office doesn’t stick. Republican Long Island Assemblyman Phil Boyle was drawn out of his district 10 years ago after backing the wrong side in an intraparty dispute.

“I call myself a poster boy for redistricting reform,” Boyle said. “My house was literally on the water, so they had to go down my block, around my house, and over the water and back up the other side just to draw the lines they wanted to.”

 

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