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Remap Revenge in New York?

Some New York Democrats, increasingly confident that they can take over both the governorship and the state Senate next year, are talking openly of redrawing the Empire State’s Congressional lines before the next census — perhaps as early as in 2007.

With Capitol Hill Democrats bent on avenging the contentious Republican-led re-redistricting of Congressional boundaries in Texas in 2003 — plus a GOP remap now under way in Georgia — party officials are looking for places to redraw lines to their benefit.

While Democratic leaders have pointed to Illinois, Louisiana and New Mexico, where the party currently controls both the governorship and the legislature, as options for re-redistricting, none of those states offers a Texas-sized bounty of seats. Potentially, New York could come close.

“Texas needs a pushback,” said Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.). “There needs to be a pushback from our side, and New York is one place where it could happen.”

In some ways, New York hardly seems like an obvious candidate. Despite the overwhelming Democratic edge in voter enrollment, GOP Gov. George Pataki has been in office since 1995, and Republicans have controlled a notably gerrymandered state Senate since the mid-1960s, even as Democrats have dominated the state Assembly for 30 years.

But Democrats have reason to believe the state is trending further in their direction. Their all-but-certain gubernatorial nominee, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, is the heavy favorite unless former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) decides to run, which is considered unlikely.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) also appears on her way to a big victory next year, assuming a marquee Republican doesn’t enter the race. And last November, Democrats picked up three seats in the state Senate, cutting their deficit to 35-27.

In mid-February, more than two months after voters had gone to the polls, a nine-term Republican state Senator from suburban Westchester County was finally declared the winner in his race by 18 votes. In a way it was a heart-breaking loss for Democrats. But it also provided fuel for their increasing exuberance about finally wresting control of the Senate from the GOP in the next few election cycles.

“There is a chance before the end of the decade of getting that chamber into Democratic hands,” said Michael Davies, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C. “The closeness of the [Westchester] election shows that even senior Republicans can lose.”

“If there was a halfway fair reapportionment, Democrats would control the state Senate forever,” added a senior New York elected official.

Republicans, noting that their party still controls two of the three legs of state government in Albany, say Democrats are getting way ahead of themselves. And they argue that because another round of redistricting will occur in 2011 or 2012 following the next census, state lawmakers may be reluctant to revisit the issue so deep into the decade.

“There’s a lot of will that has to be garnered there for anything to happen,” said Carl Forti, communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Many Democrats concede that a 2007 redraw is not a foregone conclusion, even if Spitzer wins and the Democrats retake the state Senate next year. Under state law, New York must undertake its own mid-decade census for a mid-decade redistricting to take place. And it is unclear whether the presiding officers in the Legislature would go along.

But the senior elected official told Roll Call that Democrats in the state Senate have privately agreed that re-redistricting of the state Senate and Congressional boundaries will be in order if they find themselves in the majority any time soon.

“In late-night sessions, we sometimes say, ‘It would be nice to do in New York what the Republicans do,’” said one New York-based Democratic operative.

But given the way things work in Albany, the Democratic leaders of the state Assembly have long found themselves in a cozy relationship with the GOP leaders of the state Senate, and thus may be hesitant to go after certain Republicans.

The two sides are so comfortable with each other that in late February, the state Senate Republican campaign committee and the state Assembly Democratic campaign committee held back-to-back fundraisers on the same night in the same Albany hotel, drawing high-dollar contributions from the same high-powered lobbyists and political fixers.

Still, Crowley, Davies and other Democratic insiders said the party’s gains in the 2004 state Senate elections guarantee that more campaign money will be available for Democratic Senate candidates in potentially competitive districts. In addition to the Westchester seat they almost won, Democrats see pickup possibilities in Queens and on Long Island, where several older incumbents may be contemplating retirement. Some might find themselves endangered even if they do seek re-election.

Quietly, New York Democrats are talking about which Republican House Members could be vulnerable if Congressional boundaries are redrawn.

Although the Democrats already hold a 20-9 edge in the delegation, Republican Reps. Peter King, Vito Fossella and Sue Kelly are among those who could be endangered. And certain upstate Republicans could be thrown into the same district depending on how artfully new lines are drawn.

Crowley said he is working to put the New York option on the radar screen for Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill. And he said an important first step in Democrats’ efforts to draw national attention to the importance of the state elections will be the outcome of the New York City mayoral race later this year.

Like the governor’s seat, Republicans have occupied the mayor’s office for more than a decade — an anomaly in one of the nation’s most liberal cities. While billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) has unlimited personal resources and rising poll numbers, the four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination are already working overtime to tie the mayor — a former Democrat with a moderate policy agenda — to President Bush, who remains unpopular in the city.

Meanwhile, as Democrats dream of redrawing Congressional lines to their advantage in New York, a Democratic state Assemblyman is about to introduce a bill to take the responsibility for redistricting out of the Legislature’s hands.

Assemblyman Michael Gianaris wants a nine-member bipartisan commission to draw Congressional and legislative lines every decade. The majority and minority leaders of both legislative chambers would each appoint two members, and their eight appointees would select a ninth member to be chairman.

“The idea is create more of a balance and more of an open process,” Gianaris said.

Although several good-government groups are poised to endorse the measure, it is unlikely to get very far in Albany this year. Some political observers believe that Gianaris, who is preparing to run for state attorney general in 2006, is introducing the bill in part to burnish his reformer’s credentials in advance of his statewide race.

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