A coalition of local and statewide reform activists protest at Nassau Republican State Senator Jack Martin’s district office to pressure the newly elected Senator to live up to signing Ed Koch’s NY Uprising pledge and pass independent redistricting; Koch applauds rally

New York, NY – Democratic activist and New Roosevelt Initiative founder Bill Samuels and a coalition of progressive groups and young activists rallied Saturday afternoon at the district office of newly elected Nassau Republican State Senator Jack Martins demanding that he keep his word to pass Independent Redistricting in the state legislature.

Last summer, Senator Martins signed Mayor Ed Koch’s NY Uprising pledge promising to pass Independent Redistricting if elected. Instead, when presented with the opportunity to pass an Independent Redistricting bill put forth by Governor Cuomo, Senator Martins decided to side with the Republican Senate majority, who are currently unwilling to put the bill to a vote. The move is more disappointing than the failure by Democrats, who last year held a majority in both the Assembly and Senate to take up the redistricting issue since he has promised to pass such legislation.

Nearly a dozen local Long Island and statewide progressive and young activists groups joined the protest including– Nassau County Young Democrats, Nassau Women’s Democratic Caucus, New York Democratic Lawyers Council, New York State Young Democrats, New York Democratic Law Students Council, New York State Young Democrats Caucus of Color, College Democrats of New York, New York Civic, Act Now, Manhattan Young Democrats, Queens County Young Democrats, Brooklyn Young Democrats and New Kings Democrats.

“I applaud all the young activists that have shown an interest and taken on the vital issue of independent redistricting,” said former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, founder of New York Uprising. “Today’s event is about holding politicians accountable to the pledges they took and making sure they know we’re still paying attention.  The people of the state of New York expect their legislators to be honorable, and to keep their word.  For anyone who signed the Uprising pledge, that means enacting meaningful redistricting reform that will impact the elections next year.”

Samuels, founder of the New Roosevelt Initiative, an organization dedicated to reforming Albany and creating the country’s best state legislature, said he was upset that Martins was siding with the status quo on such a critical to both the voters of New York and to the future governance of the state.

“Martins signing of the Koch pledge was a promise to Nassau voters that he would pass Independent Redistricting reform regardless of which party was in the Majority. Instead with the Republicans retaking control of the Senate, he is proving that he would rather be just another status quo Albany politician. Independent Redistricting reform must be passed this session in order to have an impact in 2012,” Samuels said.

“While I initially advocated for a Constitutional Amendment last session, passing one in this session means no meaningful impact until 2022,” continued Samuels.

“Until a couple of Republicans stand up for what is right and vote for the Independent Districting bill put forth by Governor Cuomo, they are proving that like the Democrats did when they were in charge of the Assembly and Senate, they are only interested in political self-preservation. I would like to see Senator Martins prove everyone wrong,” continued Samuels.

In Nassau County, African American communities, like those in the Hempstead area are currently split between 4 out of the 5 white male Republican Senators from Nassau: Dean Skelos in District 9, Charles Fuschillo in District 8, Jack Martins in District 7, Kemp Hannon in District 6.

At the protest, representatives from a dozen Nassau, New York City and statewide progressive activist groups urged Martins to reconsider his stance and pass the redistricting bill. Each outlined what was at stake.

Jay S. Jacobs, New York State and Nassau County Democratic Chairman said, “I believe voters are tired of politicians who tell them one thing before Election Day and then give them excuses instead of delivering when in office. Jack Martins is the poster child for promises made but not kept.”

Dolores Sedacca, President of the Nassau Women’s Democratic Caucus, said, “The entire Nassau County State Senate Caucus in composed of white, male, republicans despite the fact that the voters of the county are more than 50% female, there are more registered Democrats than Republicans and over 30% of our voters are not white. Gerrymandering has deprived the women, persons of color and Democrats of Nassau County of representation in the New York State Senate.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau 2009 estimates, Nassau County is 51.2% female and 31.9% non-White with the New York State Board of Elections showing that there are more Democrats than Republicans registered to vote at 38% to 36% as of November 2010.

Kyle Strober, Vice President of Nassau County Young Democrats and Hempstead resident said, “A person’s word, especially from an elected official, should stand for something.  It’s apparent that Mr. Martins’ does not. Numerous residents voted for Mr. Martins because of his stance on redistricting. Unfortunately, Nassau County residents have grown accustom to politicians promising the world while campaigning then doing the opposite once elected.  Nassau County government as one such example. Long Island’s future generation needs leaders who keep promises and do what they believe in, not what they are told to do. That is why we are standing here today, to ensure that we hold our elected officials accountable for the promises they make.”

Kevin Lawrie, New York State Young Democrats President and Niagara Falls Resident said, “The district lines that get drawn not only affect those that have drawn them but often those who hold office after them.  Fair redistricting is not about partisan politics.  It is about giving the future generations of elected officials a chance to govern fairly and give voters the chance to select their representatives, not the other way around.  I live in a Senate District that is only “contiguous” at low-tide and my district is just as bad as many other around the entire state.  With districts drawn to favor the elected officials and not the people, how can young activists ever hope to influence positive change when incumbents use partisan gerrymandering to silence our voices?  Independent redistricting must become a reality now and we will continue to hold Senator Martins and all his other flip-flopping colleagues accountable for misrepresenting themselves to their districts.”

Nick Roloson, President of College Democrats of New York, said, “College Students are a frequent victim of unfair redistricting. Campus communities, dormitory residences, and off-campus housing are frequently split up with the intention of disenfranchising student voters. We need to work together to ensure fair and equitable redistricting across New York State to give all student voices the opportunity to be heard in government. The College Democrats of New York will not rest until an independent redistricting proposal is brought to an immediate vote in the Legislature. It is time to make this long-time dream a reality.”

Robert Donovan, Co-Chair of the New York Democratic Lawyers Council said, “Redistricting reform is now more critical than ever. The census numbers are in and redistricting must move forward. We must get real reform now before the gerrymandering games go on.”

Ted Anastasiou, Chair of the New York Democratic Law Students Council said, “One of the first lessons that a law student learns is that voting, once afforded to the electorate, is a fundamental right protected under the Constitution. It does not take a constitutional law expert to see that when politicians choose their own voters instead of the reverse, it results in less competitive elections that effectively compromises this vital right as well as grossly undermines the very principles of democracy our nation was founded upon.”

Heather Roberson, Board Member of Act Now, said, “For those of us at ACT NOW who have been chipping away at Albany dysfunction for years, one politician at a time, non-partisan redistricting is going to be a real game-changer.”

Lincoln Restler, State Committeeman and District Leader for the 50th Assembly District and New Kings Democrats Board Member said, “Jack Martins promised to end the backroom gerrymandering process once and for all, but he cares more about his own political future than the people of Nassau County. Keep your word, Jack, and pass the pledge!”

Amanda Pizzuti, President of the Brooklyn Young Democrats said “The census data released this week said that Brooklyn’s population has only grown by less than 40,000 in the past decade. Yet over 70,000 new homes have been built in Kings County. Downstate New York is expected to lose two congressional seats which translates to less representation for more people. Redistricting is not just about diluting a person’s vote, it is more importantly about having a say in our democracy.”

Costa Constantinides, District Leader for the 36th Assembly District and President of Queens County Young Democrats said, “This is about honesty, integrity and living up to the promises you make.  When an elected official outright lies to their constituents, it hurts our system of government.  Shame on you Jack Martins. This isn’t partisanship, it’s what is right.”

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