Members of the state Redistricting Commission have started work on new state Assembly district lines due in fewer than two weeks after a shakeup in the group's leadership.
Commissioners plan to meet Dec. 1 — a day before the draft of those new maps are due, to vote to accept the plan so public hearings can be held around the state early next year. They're using much of the Assembly districts they agreed on earlier this year, and say they're on track to meet the Dec. 2 deadline.
"We're really starting from where the commission last left off," said Ken Jenkins, the commission's newest member.
It will be the first time the commission has met since last winter.
Earlier this year, a state Supreme Court judge invalidated the Assembly maps because lawmakers failed to follow procedures outlined in the state constitution. An appeal has been filed in attempts to have an appointed special master draw the lines, which waits on a decision in the Appellate Court.
Commissioners continue to negotiate the final lines for Syracuse, parts of the Capital Region, Hudson Valley, Long Island and New York City.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat from Yonkers, appointed Jenkins, Westchester's deputy county executive, to the commission this week after former chair David Imamura resigned to seek political office.
Jenkins, a Democrat, is a former county legislator and longtime ally of top Democrats, but says he's committed to working with everyone and a fair balance of all voices.
"At the end of the day, there's going to be a few areas around the state that have some challenges, but those challenges can be overcome through compromise," Jenkins said. "I'm looking forward to working together to do that."
Jenkins has spoken with commissioner Charlie Nesbitt, a Republican appointee who's risen in group leadership.
The two men have different political leanings, but see eye to eye on agreeing on one set of Assembly maps after commissioners failed to reach consensus earlier this year.
Nesbitt says the commission was burdened in 2020 by a lack of state funding, tight time constraints and U.S. Census delays during the early days of the pandemic.
"I encourage my fellow commissioners to just be open to discussion," Nesbitt said Friday. "I think, frankly, they are."
When commissioners meet in person Dec. 1 in the Legislative Office Building in Albany, they're expected to vote to set the statewide public hearing schedule on the new districts in addition to approving the draft lines.
They'll also elect a chair and vice chair from different political parties.
Nesbitt and Jenkins have both expressed interest in becoming the next commission's chair.
"We have not discussed who will actually be the chair and who will be the vice chair," Nesbitt said. "Certainly, I'll be one of them."
Jenkins cited his time as Yonkers NAACP president and work in political and nonprofit organizations as why he should lead the commission through its work.
"This is a particular process, especially in our times that we have, where the premise of democracy is so important," Jenkins said.
The 10-member commission is evenly split with Republican and Democrat appointees.
Voting to elect a chair and vice chair could offer a look into how they'll be able to compromise — especially after the group deadlocked in fall 2020 to elect a person to either position multiple times, leaving them vacant for months.
Commissioners are appointed to Independent Redistricting Commission indefinitely, and do not have terms that expire, meaning the selected chair and vice chair could influence the state's election districts for decades.
Ongoing discussion between lawmakers continues about changing the Redistricting Commission's structure in the state Constitution, as New Yorkers voted to do in 2014.
Former chair Imamura said the process would be best for democracy without political appointees when he resigned this week. But Nesbitt stressed the map-drawing process can work under the current structure, but it has to be given a chance.
The Assembly map redraw is that opportunity, Nesbitt said.
"Well, proof will be in the pudding," he added with a smirk. "It's always possible."