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Redistricting commission's cooperative spirit contrasts with last year's acrimony

The New York state Capitol building.
Wangkun Jia
The New York state Capitol building.

A year ago, a redistricting process began to draw new lines for state elected officeholders. It ended in acrimony — and in court.

On Thursday, though, New York’s redistricting commission found accord.

Redistricting Commission Chair Ken Jenkins and Vice Chair Charlie Nesbitt presented a united front, standing together and taking questions from the media after the board’s five Republicans and five Democrats voted unanimously on a set of maps that would reconfigure — for the second time since 2020 — the state Assembly’s 150 seats for the next election cycle.

“We’ve done some very productive work together,” Nesbitt said.

“Absolutely," Jenkins agreed.

It’s a marked difference in tone from when the process first began, in December 2021. Then, the panel presented dueling maps: one favored by Democrats, the other by Republicans.

Democrats, who lead both houses of the Legislature, approved the maps drawn by Democratic commissioners. But Republicans went to court and won, and a special master drew the new lines for the 2022 elections. The GOP flipped four seats in Congress under the new districts, helping the Republicans win narrow control of the U.S. House.

The second redrawing of the Assembly lines is part of a separate court challenge that could not be resolved in time for the 2022 vote. Nesbitt, a Republican, said this time, the process was far more cooperative.

“There’s a bipartisan will to get this done in an appropriate way,” Nesbitt said. “That perhaps didn’t exist before this.”

Jenkins, a Democrat, said the commissioners were also aware that the process this time is under the direction of a court ruling, which commanded the commission to redraw the Assembly lines.

“We are going to follow the law, and we’re going to work together to get the job done,” Jenkins said. “It requires the work of compromise.”

Jenkins replaced former commission chair David Imamura, who resigned last month. Imamura told USA TODAY Network that the process was a “spectacular failure,” and he’s published articles describing what he believes went wrong.

Imamura is now seeking election to the Westchester County Board of Legislators.

Government reform groups have called for a restructuring of the commission. A 2021 ballot proposal to make changes to the redistricting process failed. Jenkins and Nesbitt said Thursday’s agreement proves the commission can work.

Next, the proposed maps will be subject to public hearings, beginning in January. The commission then has a chance to alter the maps, taking into account public input, and finally, the Legislature will vote on the new lines.

Under the judge’s order, they must finish the process by the end of April.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.