Editorial Roundup: New York

Advance Media New York. September 22, 2021.

Editorial: NY independent redistricting is an epic flop

New York’s first attempt at independent redistricting was an epic failure, and there is absolutely no joy in saying we told you so.

Voting districts for the state Legislature and Congress are redrawn every 10 years to ensure “one person, one vote.” Districts are adjusted based on population shifts documented by the U.S. Census. After the 2010 census, the Democratic-led Assembly and Republican-led Senate could not agree on a set of maps. A federal court ended up drawing the districts.

A constitutional amendment was supposed to fix all that. In 2014, New York voters agreed to create an independent commission to draw the voting districts.

Except, as the editorial board and many others pointed out, the commission was independent in name only. Eight of its 10 members are appointed by the leaders of the state Assembly and Senate, and the eight appoint two more members. Five Democratic appointees plus five Republican appointees equals deadlock. We urged voters to turn down the amendment, but it passed.

Fast-forward to 2021. As predicted, members of the redistricting commission split along party lines and could not reach a consensus on new district boundaries. Democrats drew one set of maps. Republicans drew another. That throws the final say to the Legislature, now firmly in Democratic Party control.

But we all know the courts will have the final final say. Why? Because the party in control will attempt to bake in an electoral advantage for the next decade by slicing and dicing voter data to create safe districts for their members. It’s called gerrymandering. It’s wrong when either party does it, in red states or blue states. But we know both parties will try.

And who’s to stop them? The Supreme Court has already said partisan gerrymandering is a political question, not a judicial one, so don’t expect the courts to ride to the rescue.

New York’s redistricting commission will hold a series of public hearings on their dueling maps, including one Oct. 26 in Syracuse. However, members of the public don’t have the tools or the expertise to fully participate. The commission has made it incredibly difficult for them to try.

For example, the commission’s maps are posted on its website in a format that takes hours to download. On the day the maps were released, the website repeatedly crashed. The maps do not provide street-level detail, so people on border lines between districts can’t tell where they would fall. The data files that accompany the maps, which include population and voter information, are in a format only data geeks can understand and manipulate.

You can be sure the political parties have that kind of expertise on speed dial. What chance does an average voter have to influence the process?

The redistricting commission also failed on the substance of its work. It violated rules in the state Constitution that say voting districts should be compact and contiguous, and metro areas and communities of interest should not be split up.

Its maps also are nakedly partisan. For example, Democrats drew a congressional district that would pit Rep. John Katko and Rep. Claudia Tenney, both Republicans, against each other. Republicans drew a state Senate district that would pit Sen. John Mannion and Sen. Rachel May, both Democrats, against each other. Come on.

In fairness, the commission’s work was hampered by late Census data and inadequate funding. But that’s no excuse for throwing up its hands and producing two sets of partisan maps.

After 2010, it was hard to imagine a worse redistricting process. The 2021 independent redistricting commission has matched it — and then some.

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Albany Times Union. September 19, 2021.

Editorial: A sham of a commission

THE ISSUE:

The state’s new redistricting commission can’t agree on the maps it’s supposed to draw.

THE STAKES:

New York needs a far less partisan board to serve the public interest.

New York’s new redistricting commission failed the most fundamental test it faced: To produce maps for state legislative and congressional districts that were the product of bipartisan consensus.

In equally surprising news, dog bites man.

We predicted seven years ago that this so-called Independent Redistricting Commission would be anything but independent. It was a commission designed by politicians and appointed by politicians. How could its work be anything but political?

Oh, no doubt some commissioners will say they worked earnestly to do the very best they could to come up with the most apolitical maps possible. But as the saying goes, judge people not by what they say, but by what they do.

And what the commission has done in its inaugural exercise is essentially deadlock, exactly what one would expect on a hyperpoliticized body evenly split among four appointees of Democrats, four appointees of Republicans, and two members unaffiliated with the major parties but selected by the two main partisan factions. Partisan gridlock was baked into this panel.

However bipartisan the commission’s more mundane work may have been, when the main event came — drawing those legislative and congressional maps — the underlying partisanship was apparent, with each side producing its own maps for Assembly, Senate and congressional districts.

Which set can be called more fair is hard to say at this point, but in the absence of a detailed, objective analysis, the partisan divide is reason enough to be skeptical that either was drawn without political advantage in mind.

The matter may ultimately be moot. If the 10-member commission can’t get seven votes on a set of maps — which neither side can get without at least one vote from the opposing faction and one of the non-major-party votes — the maps will go to the Legislature, where the outcome is certain: Democrats have supermajorities in both chambers, enabling them to choose the Democratic maps or even draw their own. And Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul would almost certainly seize the advantage to lock in the most favorable maps for her party as possible for the next 10 years.

Which would make all this — the constitutional amendment, the commission’s time and work — a waste of time, all to give the public the illusion of good government.

Capital Region residents can take some consolation that, for all the righteous assurances by former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders in 2014 that this commission would be independent, most voters here saw through the hype and voted against the constitutional amendment that created this sham. Perhaps being the closest New Yorkers to state government, and having so many state workers among them, they could see how this system was designed to ultimately serve political interests, not the public’s.

What’s to be done? Certainly New Yorkers should urge the commissioners to put aside partisanship and redouble their efforts to arrive at maps most of them can agree are reasonably fair. Comments can be sent to submissions@nyirc.gov.

And if this commission in the end proves to be as useless as it’s shaping up to be, lawmakers should go back to the drawing board and, with lots of public input, design a far more independent, less partisan body that this. That would be a real surprise, and a pleasant one.

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Auburn Citizen. September 22, 2021.

Editorial: Parole reform, like bail, may need a second look

Anew law in New York means that people on parole won’t necessarily be sent back to prison when they violate the terms of their release.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the “Less is More” measure into law last week, eliminating things like missed appointments, unauthorized change of address and broken curfew from the list of things that can lead to a revocation of parole and a return to state custody.

Much like the state’s elimination of cash bail for most offenses, the reform changed longtime regulations that many view as unnecessarily harsh. Advocates said the change is long overdue because “technical” parole violations have created a costly cycle of re-incarceration in New York that disproportionately affected minorities. The law includes exceptions for parolees who demonstrate a threat to public safety.

But just like bail reform, the changes to parole are going to require careful study to see in any tweaks need to be made. The Legislature listened to the many critics of bail reform and amended that law to make more crimes eligible for cash bail and giving judges more discretion to decide when certain suspects can be held before trial.

Conditions of parole are meant to help assimilate former inmates back into society by steering them into programming designed to help them make better choices, and critics say that giving parolees fewer reasons to follow the rules contradicts the overall goal of public safety.

The results of this latest reform are going to have to be carefully monitored, and the Legislature needs to be prepared to make changes if it can be demonstrated that it isn’t working as well as expected.

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Dunkirk Evening Observer. September 18, 2021.

Editorial: COUNTY STIMULUS: Find better use for some funds

Chautauqua County officials have done, by and large, a good job developing a $12.3 million plan to spend federal stimulus money.

The plan — which is now being reviewed by legislative committees and should be adopted later this month by the County Legislature – includes dozens of items that will help residents throughout the county. For that, departments heads and County Executive PJ Wendel deserve some credit.

In our view, though, there are two items that should be removed and reprogrammed to something with more benefit to more Chautauqua County residents.

The first is $72,000 for an air service development study for the Chautauqua County Airport in Jamestown to help determine if commercial air service can ever return to Chautauqua County.

We can save the county $72,000 and answer that question quickly — no. Unless the Jamestown area grows itself back to 1950 and 1960 levels, there is a miniscule chance that commercial air service will ever be viable at the Jamestown airport. Multiple plans have been submitted to the federal government with differing locations, ticket price points and help from local foundations and businesses. Those plans have been turned away by the federal government. County officials should learn what their federal counterparts already know — commercial air service from the Jamestown airport simply makes no economic sense. And the longer there is no air service, the harder it will be to bring it back.

In our view the county needs to move on.

The second line item is $150,000 for a Chautauqua Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District study focusing on properties that inadvertently impact Chautauqua Lake. Such a study might well be needed, but in our view stimulus money isn’t the best fit. Such a study can be undertaken with bed tax money or with proceeds of a lake taxing district if one is ever created. There are greater needs for stimulus money, including perhaps additional money for Public Works vehicles.

Again, county officials have done a nice job with this plan and should be commended for that. In our view, however, county residents can get a little more bang for our federal stimulus bucks.

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New York Post. September 19, 2021.

Editorial: Gov. Hochul, kill the AirTrain boondoggle

Gov. Kathy Hochul should heed the advice of watchdog group Reinvent Albany and scrap the Cuomo-era LaGuardia AirTrain.

The project’s cost quickly mushroomed from the original $500 million to $2.1 billion, and the group estimates the AirTrain will be about “twice as expensive” as the Second Avenue Subway on a ridership basis. The subway line’s capital cost totaled $5.57 billion or $180,500 per rider.

This 1.5 mile monorail link was never anything more than another ego trip for ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who obsessed with large projects without regard to how little sense they made. The Port Authority never set it as a priority, and it doesn’t even reduce travel time to the airport. Installing dedicated busways on the roads between LaGuardia and Manhattan would be far cheaper.

It only connects LaGuardia to the Long Island Rail Road and the 7 subway train at Willets Point — via a “wrong-way” route running east to the LIRR station before doubling back west to the subway.

Cuomo plainly rigged the system to get the project OK’d: Docs exposed via freedom-of-information laws show that Federal Aviation Administration officials questioned the “arbitrary” environmental criteria and faulty travel-time analysis that led to the AirTrain’s approval.

From a failed upstate “film hub” to a struggling Buffalo solar-panel plant, New York already has enough Cuomo white elephants. Nip this one in the bud, gov.

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Plattsburg Press-Republican. September 16, 2021.

Editorial: Public input on downtown needed

Once again the future of Downtown Plattsburgh is being discussed in earnest. It will be interesting to see if anything concrete comes of it.

The latest discussions focus on what to do with Margaret Street, and whether to have paid parking in the city’s downtown parking lots.

The city has enlisted the help of a couple consulting firms to study the possibilities for Margaret Street’s future, and the options are interesting for sure.

For years, Margaret Street traffic was one way from Court Street to Broad Street. That was when downtown was still a hub of retail in the region and there were less restaurants on Margaret Street.

The downtown area then had two distinct faces: a retail shopping and service destination in the daylight hours, and a rowdy college party town in the evenings.

The street traffic was changed about 20 years ago to two-way traffic, and we eventually saw more restaurants open up on Margaret Street in the heart of downtown.

College kids still frequent downtown bars at night, but it seems much milder than the ’80s and ’90s when the area known as the “Diamond” at the intersection of Margaret, Upper Bridge and Clinton Streets was mobbed with hundreds of young people spilling out onto the sidewalks after the 2 a.m. closing.

In the past decade, city officials have allowed, at the request of restaurant owners, outdoor dining in the summer months. The outdoor seating has been a big hit and a major improvement for downtown.

Outdoor parklets are well established at several restaurants on Margaret Street as well as City Hall Place, which has also become an essential part of downtown.

Prior to the early 1990s, City Hall Place had a less than stellar reputation as a place where trouble was bound to happen.

But local developer John Seiden deserves credit for transforming the street into a prosperous section of downtown that people love to visit, and have a meal and a drink.

During special events, a section of City Hall Place from Upper Bridge Street to City Hall is blocked off to vehicle traffic, making for a pedestrian mall type venue, and people love it.

Now, there is talk once again, of closing off part of Margaret Street to vehicles, making for a Church Street in Burlington, Vt. kind of plaza.

People have talked about that idea for decades, so it will be interesting to see if it gains any traction this time around. A lot has to be considered, such as the views and concerns of business owners, travelers and public safety.

There is also more ramped up talk about installing paid parking in city-owned lots downtown. The idea sprang about with the notion that the Durkee Street parking lot would be eliminated in favor of the Prime project as part of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

While the Prime project, which is highly controversial, has been approved and will sustain some of its free public spaces, the developer is trapped in litigation with community members against the project, so there seems no immediate movement on when that will be built.

In the meantime, the city would do well to have as many public forums as possible when it comes to making changes to downtown traffic and parking patterns.

The public must be fully vested in these decisions, otherwise they won’t work and that’s not good government.

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