New York State Senate leadership will appoint a new member to the state's Independent Redistricting Commission in the coming days as the commission chair prepares to step down.
David Imamura, an attorney at Abrams Fensterman LLP, announced Tuesday he will resign from the 10-member bipartisan commission to campaign for a Westchester County Legislature seat. He's chaired the commission for the last two years.
"I will leave it to the state Senate to say who's replacing me and I will leave it to all 10 commissioners, once the commission is fully constituted, to choose the successor as chair," Imamura told Capital Tonight on Tuesday.
Imamura is running to replace county lawmaker MaryJane Shimsky — the Democrat just elected to the Assembly's 92nd District. She will take state office Jan. 1, and county officials will likely schedule a special election for the remainder of her term this winter.
Imamura had not submitted his resignation as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, representatives with the Senate Majority said. He was expected to send the letter Tuesday night. The conference will announce his replacement, with Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins making the appointment, in the coming days.
Imamura's departure, effective immediately when Senate leaders receive his resignation letter, comes as the Independent Redistricting Commission has just over two weeks to draft new state Assembly lines to make a Dec. 2 court deadline. A state Supreme Court judge threw out the Assembly lines for being unconstitutional earlier this summer. Public hearings will be held on the new election districts around the state.
Commissioners, appointed by political leaders, failed to agree on a single set of Congressional, state Senate and Assembly lines last year.
Imamura and experts agree New York's redistricting structure is dysfunctional and must be changed.
The outgoing chair says the 10-member model is set up to fail, or lead to a stalemate between members.
"There's effectively no way the commission will be able to come to an agreement," Imamura added of the current model.
He hopes lawmakers will return to Albany next session to create a more politically independent system, citing California's redistricting model that has multiple independent nonpartisan members who serve as tiebreakers.
"As a political appointee, I think that there shouldn't be political appointees on redistricting commissions," said Imamura, who was appointed by Stewart-Cousins. "I do think that inhibits our independence."
But Imamura is confident the commission can work together and achieve a single set of Assembly maps, but advised the group to be honest about needing more time if need be.
"I think the court would be more than willing to give more time in order to be able to have a single map that's agreed to by all 10 commissioners," he said.
New York's redistricting process has been burdened by legal challenges, and funding and pandemic-related delays that led to an appointed special master to draw the Congressional and state Senate districts this year.
Some Democrats have criticized the line-drawing process and say it gave a slight advantage to Republicans, who flipped four Congressional seats in New York and several in the state Legislature. But experts say the new districts had little to do with the final outcome.
"There's no place else in the country that Democrats lost districts that [President] Joe Biden won by 10 points or 15 points," said Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. "Something else is going on in New York that is unique to New York, and that has nothing to do with the maps."
New York Law School professor Jeff Wice says the Republican Party's focus on crime and on the economy throughout the midterm cycle was on point for more New Yorkers — overriding the deep-blue state's advantages.
"We have different census numbers to work with than we had in 2020," he said.
Several state lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have expressed interest in reforming New York's redistricting processes and potential changes to the state Constitution. That would require legislation passing the Legislature for two years in a row before going to voters as a statewide proposition on the ballot the next Election Day.
No lawmaker has publicly led the charge in changing state redistricting rules and procedures. No new legislation has been drafted, but it's expected to become a more serious discussion next session.