Cuomo says redistricting is fixed, and on transparency: ‘You can’t live your life in a goldfish bowl’

Andrew Cuomo addresses reporters. (Azi Paybarah)
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Governor Andrew Cuomo this morning said that as a result of his grand bargain with the legislature, gerrymandering in New York State "is over."

"It’s over once and for all," Cuomo told Susan Arbetter on Albany's WCNY radio, adding, "And that is a big deal, because I came here to change the dysfunction, to fix the problems once and for all, even if it was hard. And we fixed this problem for the state and I feel very good about that."

Late last night, the governor and legislature reached a deal on redistricting that essentially allows the State Senate's and Assembly's partisan majorities to put in place gerrymandered lines for the next decade, and creates the framework for a constitutional amendment to govern future redistrictings that creates a bipartisan commission to submit lines to the legislature for approval.

The process in the amendment is far less independent than the one Cuomo would have created in reform legislation he proposed, then abandoned.

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"Redistricting came down to this," said the governor, in response to a question about what he got in exchange for going back on his promise to veto any lines that weren't independently drawn. "I had two choices. Either veto these lines and let a magistrate draw the lines. Or come up with a long-term constitutional reform. Some people said, 'Well, you should do both.' Yes, in a perfect world you would do both. This is not a perfect world, and the legislature wouldn’t have done both. So you needed to do either Option A or Option B."

The governor went on to say that an independent magistrate's congressional lines were essentially the same as those drawn by the legislature, and much the same would have happened with the state legislative districts, and therefore it was all kind of a moot point.

"Once I saw the congressional lines that the magistrate did draw, what I concluded, Susan, was, even if I veto and it goes to the magistrate, the lines are going to come back substantially the same as they were," said Cuomo. "That’s what happened on the congressional lines. I believe the magistrate clearly took incumbency into consideration. The magistrate’s congressional lines, almost every incumbent has the same district. It can’t be, unless you took incumbency into consideration. So if to go all through this and have a magistrate give lines back to the legislature which was substantially the same would have been a terrible defeat. Here, what quote-un-quote I got, which is what I believe the people got, they got a constitutional amendment, they got a real statute for reform, and it's over. It’s not going to happen again."  

“We never have to talk about it again, at least for ten years,” said Arbetter.

"Even ten years," said Cuomo. "You’re gonna have an independent commission, that is real. That will do a report to the legislature where they can only deviate from that report two percent in any district. So it’s a real positive reform. Now, people say, 'Argh, I wish that we could have done it this year.' So do I. So do I. I would have hoped that the legislature would have done an independent commission at the beginning of the year and these lines could have been done by an independent commission. We had one little obstacle in the way, which was called the constitution of the state of New York. And sometimes that’s a problem."

On a related note, Arbetter asked Cuomo about transparency, or more precisely, the lack of transparency in the run-up to last night's huge omnibus legislative package, which resulted in pension reform, a new DNA database, a move toward casino gambling, and of course, legislative lines.

Arbetter asked Cuomo if he believed that transparency is less important than getting his priorities through the legislature. 

"Susan, the issue of transparency always comes up in Albany," said Cuomo. "And you know, I was here in the first incarnation when my father was governor, and everyone always talked about, 'We need more transparency.' And it’s true. You can always have more transparency. On the other hand, I think you can become overly fixated with observing process, and just ongoing process with no product."

"You know, for many years, the complaint in Albany was it doesn’t perform, nothing ever happens," he said. "And you look at the issues that we just acted on finally, Susan, what could you possibly want more discussion or transparency on? You want to talk about redistricting more? You and I have had the same conversation on redistricting five times!"

Arbetter pointed out that some of the bills weren't released until 3 a.m., and there's been little explanation as to why New York City firefighters and police were excluded from the pension-reform measure.

"Susan, let’s take that issue, pension reform," said the governor. "More discussion on pension reform? It’s been on the table, I wrote about it two years ago in my campaign book, I debated it all through my campaign. I proposed it last year. It went through the legislative session. It was debated. I lost on it last year. I put it in my State of the State this year." 

"Yes, also by the way, not to beat a dead horse," he added." Transparency, backroom dealings, they talk about this in Albany all the time. They also talk about it in Washington all the time. You can’t live your life in a goldfish bowl."