Jerry Kremer

Political mischief while you’re sleeping

Posted

To the relief of many in the political world, the 2021 elections are behind us. Whether your candidate won or lost, our mailboxes will no longer be stuffed with attack brochures, and we can be happy that the robo calls have ended. But if you think the strategizing and mischief is over, you are mistaken. During the coming months and most of 2022, legislative bodies all over America will be participating in a process called redistricting.
Every 10 years, upon the completion of the federal census, legislatures at every level begin drawing the maps that will decide who will represent you in Congress and at the state and local level for the next 10 years. The redrawing of local maps is generally ignored by the public, and the only way you find out about it is when you enter the voting booth and find that your favorite elected official no longer represents you.
Is the redistricting a fair process? Generally not. In some states, the maps are drawn under the supervision of an independent commission, and every effort is made to see that districts are balanced and no incumbent is given an unfair advantage. But, generally, partisans whose goal is to hold on to power or increase it draw the maps. That practice is known as gerrymandering, and it is intended to give one party an unfair advantage.
Gerrymandering will play a major role in deciding who will control the next Congress, and possibly many future Congresses until 2030. Some states have already finished drawing their maps, and are in court defending their machinations. Others, including New York, are in the midst of the map-making process. Because the current census left our state short of the required number of voters per district, New York will lose one member of the House of Representatives in the 2023 Congress.
While no one knows now what New York’s congressional districts will look like, it’s a sure bet that our state will play a pivotal role in determining whether the Democrats maintain control of Congress — while, at the same time, a number of Republican incumbents will likely face the possibility of primary contests, and potential extinction.

I don’t claim to be an expert, but I know from personal experience what redistricting can do to your political career. Back in the 1970s, the State Legislature was controlled by the Republicans. As a Democrat, I expected the worst, and those fears came true. My district, most of which was in the middle of Nassau County, running from Long Beach to East Rockaway, was combined with the Five Towns, which was represented by the late Eli Wager, a fellow Democrat.
That deliberate drawing of the lines led to a bitter primary battle with a colleague and friend. Only one of us could survive a primary, and I was fortunate to win that battle, and went on to become a member of the Albany power structure as chairman of the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee. Happily, Wager went on to enjoy a successful career as a Nassau County Supreme Court justice — but we learned how nasty redistricting can be.
No community is exempt from the district map-makers. Following the 2010 census, the County Legislature redrew its maps and cut the Five Towns in half. One portion of the community is now attached to the Elmont area, and the balance remains with the Long Beach area.
Because map-making is kept under wraps, there isn’t much the average citizen can do about this legislative sleight of hand. There are usually public hearings before a final map is unveiled but they aren’t well publicized, and the party in power isn’t going to broadcast the new lines. Redistricting has been a dirty word for as long as I’ve been on this planet, and nothing in the years to come will make it any easier to accept.

Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.

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