News Coverage on Redistricting
Religon And RedistrictingLiz Benjamin
Most of the criticism and challenges to the LATFOR redistricting plans have focused on the Senate maps, but there is at least one area of the state that has generated consternation on the Assembly side.
At issue in the lawsuit that appears below is the fact that the new Assembly maps split the town of Ramapo, Rockland County into three different districts – the 96th, represented by Democrat Ken Zebrowski; the 97th, represented by Democrat Ellen Jaffee; and the 98th, represented by Republican Annie Rabbitt.
Now, the town is ALREADY split into three districts – 94, 95 and 96. The problem is that the new lines break Ramapo’s Hasidic community – including two Hasidic villages – into different districts. Presently, they are essentially wholly contained within one AD (the 95th).
As explained in court papers filed by Ramapo Town Councilman Yitzchok Ullman, who successfully sought intervenor status, the situation is as follows:
“The map displays boundary lines so tortured that they could only be the result of gerrymandering based upon religious concerns in that it appears that the district lines have been purposefully manipulated to divide the heavily Chasidic Jewish communities of New Square and Kaser, thereby affecting their voting rights and impairing the effective representation of the districts in questions.”
“Moreover, the unconstitutional division of the Town of Ramapo into more than one Assembly district effectively dilutes Proposed Intervenor’s vote and the effectiveness of this representation in State government.”
According to LATFOR, the ideal population for an AD is 129,187, with a 5 percent margin of acceptable deviation. Ramapo has a population of 126, 595 according to the 2010 Census (it’s the largest town in the state outside of Long Island). As such, pursuant to the state Constitution, Ramapo should be wholly contained within one AD, and not split. No other town in New York that has a population below the ideal rate of apportionment is split into more than one district in this manner, according to Ullman.
Ullman also argues that the new lines have been “impermissibly drawn based on religious considerations.” He’s not the only one in the state with that complaint. The black churches that used to be represented by WNY Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti are none too pleased that they’ve been drawn out of his new district – a move seen as done in part to insulated him against backlash for his “yes” vote on same-sex marriage, and also to make his district less Democrat-dominated.
According to a source familiar with the Ramapo situation, there’s a political explanation for what happened there.
It mostly has to do with the fact that the village of New Square has long supported Assemblywoman Jaffee, while the village of Kaser has not. Under LATFOR’s plan, New Square is still in Jaffee’s district, but Kaser, coincidentally, is now in Rabbitt’s district.
Jaffee is reportedly none too pleased by this legal challenge, nor, presumably, is the speaker. And Rabbitt’s office isn’t thrilled by these developments, either. In fact, it was Rabbitt’s office that forwarded the document posted below.
UPDATE: Rabbitt’s office director, Krystal Varrenti, sent me the following clarification: “Assemblywoman Rabbitt is in support of the Ramapo redistricting lawsuit. She feels as though due to it’s size, Ramapo should be one Assembly district.”