Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch passed away last night.
Eighteen months ago I met with Ed Koch to talk about the future of New York politics. He was trying to escape the 100-plus-degree heat by staying out on the East End. For many years Koch told me (and my wife Cindi) how he would visit his sister in Amagansett, though he now usually stays at a good friend’s home in the Hither Hills section of Montauk. The now deceased Koch was still a tall lion of a man at 86 years young then. (On his last birthday Dec. 12, he turned 88). At that time he was focused on “fairly” reconstructing the state’s electoral districts.
He explained that a byproduct of the 2010 Census is that New York State would lose two Congressional seats, which will leave us with only 27 seats in the House of Representatives. According to experts, the 27 new districts will average 719,298 residents each. The existing 29 congressional districts currently average 655,344 residents. This change stems from New York’s population growth rate of 2.19% compared to the national rate of 9.7%.
The New York Legislature has the sole power to create these districts. While there is a legislature commission (six members) on redistricting, it only acts in an advisory role. Both houses must pass a bill that Governor Cuomo would then sign into law. Afterward, the final deal must meet with the approval of the United States Department of Justice. The plan that The Governor did sign was not all Mr. Koch wanted.
In March 2010, a year after surviving a heart condition crisis, Koch (along with Dick Dady of the Citizen Union Foundation) created NY Uprising. As this former mayor explained to me, the group wants to recreate “good government again in Albany by correcting the redistricting process that is done every 10 years.” He also said thatDemocratic State Assembly Majority Leader Shelly Silver and Republican State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos are not “evil people,” but he noted that an independent eye is needed.
Before the last election that November 2010, the still-recovering Koch criss-crossed the state to get candidates to take the NY Uprising pledge for an independent approach in the upcoming redistricting process. He named the 350 supporters of his group “Heroes of Reform,” while those who refused to sign the pledge were deemed “Enemies of Reform.” (New York Assemblyman Fred Thiele took the pledge; State Senator Ken LaValle also took the pledge, but then reneged.) Ultimately 138 “Heroes” were elected to the legislature, comprising a majority in each house. However, 31 State senators (including Skelos and LaValle) and 9 State assemblymen reneged on their pledge. Koch, an optimist, believed he might still be able to convince some of these to come back to his point of view. True Ed Koch stytle. Governor Cuomo vowed to veto anything other than a fair, impartial bill to draw the new district lines, and NY Uprising still had votes in both houses to prevent a veto override. As it turned out there was no Veto. A deal was reached. It wasn't what Ed Koch wanted but even gravely ill he was fighting the good fight for fair representation of every vote, long after he was gone....a fitting legacy