ALBANY, N.Y. — Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch said Tuesday that the state Senate's Republican majority is "dishonorable" for abandoning a campaign promise to eliminate partisan politics from redistricting — a pledge that helped the GOP win control in November.
The redrawing of election district lines every 10 years has long been used by the majorities in each house to protect their incumbents and power. Good-government groups have long cited redistricting as a central reason for the state Legislature's dysfunction and insulation from voter wrath.
"He is not going to honor his commitment," Koch said after meeting privately with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Nassau County Republican. "He is running out on good government ... he's obviously the anti-reform party now."
Last fall, Skelos immediately signed Koch's New York Uprising pledge along with all of his Republican senators and Senate candidates. He chided Democrats, then in the majority, for being slow to commit. Now the minority Democrats support various redistricting reform bills including Gov. Andrew Cuomo's, which is bottled up in a Republican-controlled committee.
Koch said Skelos now feels a constitutional amendment, not legislation, is needed to change the process. That would mean a new process couldn't be used for at least another 10 years.
"We are still reviewing constitutional concerns that we have with the bill submitted by the governor," Skelos said in a statement released after Koch's news conference. "It is our intention to pursue a redistricting reform measure that will meet the NY Uprising pledge."
"The strongest plan would amend the constitution to establish a process that is truly fair, bipartisan and constitutionally sound," Skelos stated. Skelos said legislation may not be enough to change the process he said is grounded in the constitution and couldn't legally be changed by common legislation. A constitutional amendment would take at least two years to pass and require a public referendum.
"This process could have been started earlier," Skelos said. However, when Senate Democrats were in the majority, they chose not to act on any redistricting reform legislation at all."
"It is simply an effort to derail the whole situation," Koch said. "That is just sand in your eye to divert you."
"It's kicking the can down the road," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said of Skelos' action.
Of 54 elected senators from both parties who promised during the election campaign to enact a redistricting bill this year, 27 are supporting a bill today. Of 84 Assembly members who promised to enact the bill before Election Day, 73 are supporting the bill now, according to New York Uprising.
Koch's Republican supporters included Assemblywoman Nancy Calhoun, representing parts of Orange and Rockland counties, who said minority parties like the Assembly Republicans or the Senate Democrats have the most to gain by an independent redistricting.
Senate Democrats who controlled the Senate from 2008 to 2010 after winning the majority on a reform agenda that included redistricting didn't enact the reform while in power, but criticized the Republican majority. The Democrats' leader, John Sampson of Brooklyn, said the Republican action is the "height of hypocrisy."
"Not since the first President Bush told us to read his lips have we seen a more dramatic turnaround on a campaign promise," said Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who long sponsored the reform and joined the Senate this year. He referred to George H.W. Bush pledging: "Read my lips: No new taxes!" then raising them in office.
"Gerrymandering is a perversion of democracy," said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat, who has sponsored the reform in his chamber.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a lower Manhattan Democrat, is sponsoring Cuomo's bill. On Tuesday, veteran Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat who didn't join Koch last fall because he has a personal policy against signing pledges, stood with Koch, who called Gottfried "a hero of reform."
"I don't care whether people come to support this legislation because of honor, or out of shame," Koch said. "Either way, it's OK by me. It's the legislation that counts. And I believe we are on the cusp of victory when you have the governor introducing the legislation ... we ultimately will win."
Cuomo has promised to veto any redistricting controlled fully by the majorities. That would force the process into the courts where the U.S. Justice Department would appoint a "special master" to draw the lines. Koch said he will soon begin automated "robo calls" to voters in the districts of legislators who aren't supporting the reform, including Skelos. Koch said he will advise voters they should be "ashamed" of their elected leaders for their "dishonorable" behavior.
AP Writer Michael Virtanen contributed to this report from Albany.