As the legislature tangles with Governor Paterson's budget, it will be keeping a close eye on a crucial event 20 months away. This is the 2010 election, whose victors will redraw the state political map for at least a decade, perhaps more. It's not so much an issue in the Assembly, where Democrats could afford to lose almost one-third of their seats and still hold a majority. It means everything in the Senate, where a shift of one or two seats could nullify the Democrats' map-making advantage. Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Group goes so far as to say that a map drawn by Democrats could make New York as lopsidedly Democratic as neighboring Massachusetts. If the Republicans get the votes to help write the map, on the other hand, they'll have the chance to hold off further Democratic gains, at least for a while.
Demographics are not working in the Republicans' favor. Their strongholds always have been upstate and on suburban Long Island, but upstate is rapidly losing population in comparison with metropolitan New York City, and Long Island is rapidly changing. As the Albany political newspaper The Capitol put it recently, "The I-495 corridor on Long Island, teeming with young commuters and new immigrants from the city, is the battleground for control of New York politics."
The 2010 vote could still tilt in the Republicans' favor. The party of a U.S. president has rarely gained strength in the first mid-term elections after his inauguration, and the economic downturn may prove troublesome for Democrats nationwide. So, too, in New York, where Democratic control of state government in the midst of budget cuts may hurt the party's candidates.
Then, of course, there's the question of just how reapportionment will be carried out. The arrival of one-party control in Albany has brought renewed calls from reformers for taking responsibility out of the hands of legislators. "The skullduggery of allowing each house to apportion themselves over the years has been disgraceful," says radio host Alan Chartock. "It's like allowing Steinbrenner to umpire Yankees games."
Given their cavalier treatment at the hands of Senate Republicans over the years, Democrats in the Senate don't seem inclined to surrender power. But Liz Krueger, a reform-minded member of the Democratic caucus, has been arguing that they can do so and still emerge on top. "This is one time in history where I can be a partisan Democrat and a good-government non-partisan redistricting advocate and still have it work to the Democratse advantage," she says. "If you look at the demographics, we can do this fair and square and still end up with significantly more Democratic-leaning state Senate seats."