Runnin’ Scared caught up with State Senator Gustavo Rivera yesterday to hear his thoughts on the ongoing redistricting battles in Albany. He testified on Monday at a hearing on the matter. (He wasn’t able to attend a Bronx redistricting hearing yesterday at the Bronx Museum of the Arts — which was open to the public.)
When the new maps first came out last week, we managed to grab State Senator Michael Gianaris, who has been a loud critic of the process behind redistricting — where states redraw district boundaries based on Census population data every 10 years.
We also spoke with some advocates last week who said the new district lines unfairly divided Asian communities.
Yesterday, Senator Rivera told us he was furious about the process and the proposed lines. Given “the horrendous product that came out at the end, I think everybody understands better than ever the need for an independent process,” he said.
“The lines that came out were laughably partisan,” he said. “It’s gerrymandering at its very worst.” (If you’ve got some time on your hands today, we recommend you scroll through this to get a better idea of what he’s talking about).
He came down hard on the Senate Republicans proposal to add a 63rd seat, which Democrats charge is a political ploy that will help the Republicans maintain a majority.
Rivera said it just doesn’t make sense: “It defies logic…We are losing two congressional seats…The 63rd seat was created in an area of the state where the population has decreased!”
He noted that a lot of growth in the state has actually happened in the Latino population downstate.
“These lines were a product of a bad process that was not transparent,” he said.
When Runnin’ Scared asked him about how his district in the Bronx fared, he said it’s the larger process he is concerned about. “For me, it’s about the totality of it — everything. You can’t change one district without changing everything else. From top to bottom, this was a process that was…driven by politics.”
Unsurprisingly, he supports Governor Cuomo, who has vowed to veto the proposal.
See full text of Rivera’s testimony in Albany:
“I am State Senator Gustavo Rivera and I represent the 33rd Senate District contained in the Northwest Bronx. The district includes the neighborhoods of Fordham, Kingsbridge, University Heights, Riverdale, Van Cortlandt Park, Bedford Park and East Tremont. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend the Bronx Redistricting Hearing tomorrow, Tuesday, January 31st at the Bronx Museum of the Arts.
I am here to testify about the continued need for an independent redistricting process. I am disappointed that there was not an independent redistricting commission established last year, especially given that so many of my colleagues are on the record supporting independent redistricting. I continue to believe that voters should pick their representatives, not the other way around. In order to have fair district lines, without partisan gerrymandering, we need to take legislators out of the process.
Over the last week, we have seen that a bad process results in a bad product. Today’s hearing is suppose to garner reactions to a proposal that shows a willingness to disenfranchise voters, especially Black and Latino voters, throughout New York to protect the interests of certain individuals or one conference over another.
There are two issues that stuck out to me as unconstitutional and unfair after having looked at the Republican redistricting proposal for the State Senate. The first is the proposed increase from 62 to 63 State Senate districts, which not only defies the New York State Constitution, but also defies all logic, as it comes at a time when New York’s population has decreased and we are losing two Congressional districts. The second is the issue of “packing,” or seeing to it that minority communities are packed into a few districts through gerrymandering instead of being able to figure significantly in the election of representatives in a much larger number of districts. I believe this proposal does just that and moreover could lead to a potential violation of the Voting Rights Act.
While it may be too late for an independent commission to draw districts, it is not too late to demand an independent process this year. That is why I stand united with Governor Cuomo in calling for an independent process and am ready to uphold a veto from the Governor. I will continue to push to make independent redistricting a reality in New York.”