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Full story on redistricting


Here's the story, from Marc Heller and me, about the redistricting proposals that have been released.
WASHINGTON — Rep. William L. Owens may want to brush up on his Bosnian history.

If New York State Assembly Democrats have their way, the district Mr. Owens represents in Congress will pick up the Democratic stronghold of Utica, where native Bosnians and other immigrants have helped stave off population loss — and where a new host of issues will face whoever represents Northern New York in Washington after the November elections.

Of course, the map may turn out to be total fiction, along with a more Republican-friendly map drawn by the state Senate that gives the district more solid Republican territory in Fulton, Herkimer and Essex counties.

The release of competing maps set off a new wave of speculation and conversation in the political world Thursday, but no one actually knows how the future district will look.

The proposals, which serve the respective majority’s purposes, are a discussion point leading up to further negotiations in Albany this month.

Absent an agreement, a court-appointed special master could have the final say on the district lines. A federal court is prepared to impose a set of districts by March 20, when candidates need to circulate petitions to get on the ballot.

Those districts could be drawn by a special master, with consultation from a redistricting expert.

Lines are being redrawn to reflect population shifts since the 2000 census; New York will lose two House districts.

But the proposal did not reflect the wishes of local leaders who testified in February at a Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment hearing in Syracuse.

“Obviously, they didn’t listen to those who spoke at the hearing in Syracuse,” said Jefferson County Legislature Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, who asked the task force — a panel of state legislators charged with drawing the districts — to keep the north country district in north country locales. “If they pull us into Utica and Rome, we’ll lose all identity. That’s very sad.”

Should the final map put Utica and Watertown in the same district, the Utica-Rome area would become the population center of the district. Watertown, now the biggest city in the district by population, would become the third-biggest. Issues that the north country congressman has confronted little or not at all — immigrant concerns, aid to cities, high-speed rail, the future of the Rome Air Force Research laboratory — would suddenly move high on the agenda.

At the same time, the congressman will still represent Northern New York, with its reliance on Fort Drum, its dairy farming and concerns about water level regulations on the St. Lawrence River.

“That’s not going to happen,” said former Utica-area Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert, R-New Hartford, who dismissed all the of the proposals floated so far and recalled that the frenzy over redistricting usually helps attract campaign contributions from House members to state political parties. “What this is now is just to milk the congressional delegation like they’re cash cows.”

Mr. Owens would benefit because of the Utica-Rome area’s bigger concentration of registered Democrats; the Assembly’s proposed district has about 14,000 more Democrats than his district has, and about the same number of Republicans, though the GOP would still hold a registration edge. Neither the Assembly nor Senate maps make the north country a safe Democratic or safe Republican district, said a Washington Democratic political operative who continues to work with New York congressional campaigns and requested anonymity.

“I don’t think either one makes it safe,” he said. “It’s going to be a swing district either way.”

Perhaps no one knows that better than Mr. Boehlert, who served from 1983 to 2007, staking his reputation on middle-of-the-road Republicanism. Mr. Boehlert was willing to weather challenges from the political right while gaining favor in his native Utica.

“I never had a problem there,” he said.

Mr. Owens would not comment on the maps Thursday other than to say the process is far from complete and that a compromise by the Legislature is preferable to a court-drawn map.

“Clearly, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have a court make this decision,” Mr. Owens said.

The prospect of an unfavorable map to be decided by the courts may persuade legislative leaders to strike a deal, Mr. Owens said.

They haven’t been able to so far, although a report on YNN’s State of Politics blog indicated that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos met Thursday in Albany.

Anthony J. Picente Jr., the Oneida County executive, is unhappy with the proposals that both of those legislative leaders put forward.

The Democratic plan placed Utica in the district “because Utica’s got a very heavily Democratic voting block,” Mr. Picente said. “There’s no other reason that they would put Utica in — because of the numbers there.”

Mr. Picente, a Republican, also criticized his fellow Republicans’ proposal because it, too, split his county.

“I can’t support it,” he said.

Like Ms. Fitzpatrick, Mr. Picente testified at a hearing of the task force drawing the maps and requested that Oneida County remain whole and be in the same district as Herkimer County.

“Evidently, it wasn’t loud enough,” Mr. Picente said.

The map drawn by Senate Republicans keeps the district more rural as well as more Republican. Upstate Republican lawmakers have long said the region is better served if the district is drawn to have common interests, an issue that shaped the debate in the last redistricting 10 years ago.

This time, Republicans are bumping up against climbing Democratic registration upstate, said Bruce E. Altschuler, a political science professor at SUNY Oswego.

“The problem is the Republicans have too many Democratic voters, and you have to put them somewhere,” Mr. Altschuler said.

To lock in the north country for a Republican challenger, he said, mapmakers would have to pull Republican areas away from Rep. Richard L. Hanna, R-Barneveld, or Rep. Christopher P. Gibson, R-Kinderhook. But those seats were previously held, briefly, by Democrats, and the two freshman Republicans need to hold on to as many GOP areas as they can.

“It’s more of a protect-your-turf map than a look-for-expansion map,” Mr. Altschuler said.

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