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A coalition of local and statewide reform activists protest Putnam Republican State Senator Greg Ball in Peekskill to pressure the newly elected Senator to live up to signing Ed Koch’s NY Uprising pledge; Koch says important to remind voters Ball is breaking his promise

Peekskill, NY – New Roosevelt founder Bill Samuels with a coalition of progressive groups and young activists rallied Saturday afternoon at Riverfront Green Park Pavilion in the City of Peekskill in Putnam Republican State Senator Greg Ball’s district demanding that he keep his word to pass Independent Redistricting in the state legislature.

Last summer, Senator Ball signed Mayor Ed Koch’s NY Uprising pledge promising to pass Independent Redistricting if elected in 2010, as a part of his campaign platform to be an independent-minded Republican in Albany. Ball previously made headlines in 2006, as a freshman Assemblyman, by publicly condemning the entire the legislature as the most dysfunctional in the nation and in need of fundamental change.

Yet when he was given his first substantive opportunity to fulfill that promise and show his true independence by passing an Independent Redistricting bill put forth by Governor Cuomo this Spring, Senator Ball decided to side with the Republican Senate majority, who are currently unwilling to permit a hearing, let alone a vote on the bill, thereby stalling an opportunity for change in time for the decennial redistricting in 2012. This 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 and they had not.

More than a dozen local Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess and statewide progressive and young activists groups joined the protest including– Westchester For Change, Westchester Young Democrats, Dutchess Young Democrats, Peekskill Democratic City Committee, Citizen Action of New York, New York Democratic Lawyers Council, New York State Young Democrats, New York Democratic Law Students Council, College Democrats of New York, New York Civic, Act Now, New York State Young Democrats Caucus of Color, Tribeca for Change, Manhattan Young Democrats, Queens County Young Democrats and Brooklyn Young Democrats.

Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, founder of New York Uprising, said: “I say to New Roosevelt, and all the groups rallying against Greg Ball for his dishonorable conduct in failing to keep his pledge to support an independent commission to redraw the lines — Go get him! Make sure his voters know their Senator is breaking his promise.”

Lynne Eckhardt, Putnam County Democratic Committee Chair, said, “Since Greg Ball’s election to the Assembly five years ago he has lied to his constituents time, after time, after time. We’ve had enough. Senator Ball’s signed pledge on redistricting helped get him elected. He must honor this pledge now.”

Samuels, founder of the New Roosevelt, an organization dedicated to reforming Albany and creating the country’s best state legislature, said he was upset that Ball, who promised to speak and act independently from his party, was siding with the status quo on such a critical issue to both the voters of New York and to the future governance of the state.

“In many ways, Greg Ball’s betrayal on this issue is the most egregious of anyone who signed the Koch pledge. He praised Ball for his early demonstrations of independence on issues such as ethics and reform. But now, his double talk on the Koch pledge and being in favor of a flawed constitutional convention proves 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 only interested in  preserving for another decade their badly gerrymandered advantage. I would like to see Senator Ball prove everyone wrong and reassert the independence he promised to the voters in the 2010,” concluded Samuels.

Senator Greg Ball’s district has 2,700 fewer people than the average Senate District and 17,479 fewer people in his district than the most populated Senate District.  In fact a close examination of the Hudson Valley Senate Districts shows that each of the Democratic held Senate Districts 34, 35, 36, and 37 are overpopulated with more than 5,000 more voters than average and 20,000 more voters than the least populated Senate District.  Meanwhile Senate Districts 39 through 62 that are all Upstate always have fewer voters than average.  The practice of under-populating districts of the incumbent political party while over-populating districts of the minority political party allows the incumbent politcal party to pick up additional districts in order to maintain or strengthen their majorities.

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

Michael Kane, Peekskill Democratic City Committee Chair, said “Greg Ball needs to learn a lesson my daughter learned when she was very young. The lesson is that promises are important when adult men or women give their word they stick with it even when the ‘cool kids’ have changed their mind and are going back on their promise. What she learned is at first it’s only your family and friends that know your word is worthless, but soon it’s everyone you try to deal with. Today Greg gets to decide is he going to live up to his promises or is he going to hang with the ‘cool kids’ for a little while longer.”

Justin Wagner, Cortlandt Democratic District Leader, member of Westchester for Change, and resident of Senator Ball’s district said, “Hudson Valley residents are tired of politicians that campaign on reform but then vote to keep the same broken process in place.  By refusing to honor his pledge to support independent redistricting, Greg Ball is standing with the entrenched political interests in Albany and breaking his pledge to the people of the Hudson Valley that he is supposed to represent.”

Margaret Yonco-Haines, Chair of the New York Democratic Lawyers Council Putnam Chapter and also a resident of Senator Ball’s district said, “As a voting rights project, our mission is to protect the vote by making sure each and every vote counts.  Greg Balls Senate District has 2,700 fewer people than the average Senate District and 17,479 fewer people than the most populated Senate District.  Partisan gerrymandering that over-populates certain districts and under-populates others in order to maintain or strengthen a political party’s majority, makes the votes of certain voters count more than others. Senator Ball should honor ‘one-person one-vote’ instead of making some votes ‘more equal’ than others.”

Chelsea Kadish, President, Westchester Young Democrats said, “We need Independent Redistricting, not ten years from now, like Senator Ball voted for, but right now.  We have everything we need to make fair districting a reality except the votes in the Senate.   Senator Ball campaigned on a platform that included supporting legislation for Independent Redistricting and we are here to make sure that he keeps his word, no matter what the Senate Republican Leadership might be telling him to do.”

C.J. Thomaskovic, President, Dutchess County Young Democrats said, “The ethical questions raised by such a conflict of interest are obvious. It’s a bit like hiring the fox to guard the hen house. Independent redistricting can help to alleviate this conflict.”

Elsie Raymer, President, College Democrats of New York, said “The College Democrats of New York are thrilled to partake in efforts to enact fair and non-partisan redistricting. We feel that it’s incredibly important to fight for these initiatives on the ground in order to expect real progress at the electoral level.”

Henry Stern, President of New York Civic and Co-founder of New York Uprising, said “Independent redistricting is not a partisan issue, it is a moral issue. Elections should be free and fair, not rigged in advance by arbitrary boundaries that favor incumbents and exclude independents. When he ran last year, Gregory Bell pledged to Mayor Koch and New York Uprising that he would support fair redistricting. Now he is backing away from his promise and wants to put the issue off for ten years. New York Civic urges him to stand by his commitment to the voters in his district. Whether Senator Ball abandons his promise or not says as much about his character as it does about the political issues before him.”

Heather Roberson, Co-Founder ACT NOW said “Independent redistricting is critical to building a fair and democratic government in New York.  As one of New York’s leading grassroots progressive organizations, ACT NOW is committed to creating opportunities for all citizens to experience democracy.   We call on Senator Greg Ball to support meaningful independent redistricting legislation this year.”

Emmy Suzuki Harris, president of the Manhattan Young Democrats, said “When he was in the State Assembly, Senator Ball railed against Albany’s corruption and gridlock. We’re joining our friends in the Hudson Valley to remind him. He promised the Hudson Valley and all New Yorkers he would be a reformer, but he’s in lockstep with the old guard now and refuses to step up to the plate. He may be new to the state senate, but he’s playing Albany’s game like an old pro.”

Seamus Campbell, Secretary of the Brooklyn Young Democrats said “Senator Ball promised that he would support independent redistricting. However, he has gone back on that promise. He is continuing the same business-as-usual Albany politics that he swore he would change when he signed Mayor Koch’s NY Uprising pledge. By turning his back on his promise, Senator Ball is telling the people that he cares more about the prospects of getting reelected than having to be accountable to his constituents.”

Kevin Lawrie, President of the New York State Young Democrats said “The redistricting process is about adjusting communities based on demographics to best serve the specific needs of residents all over the country.  In New York, lines have typically been drawn to serve the specific needs of elected officials instead of the voters. To NYSYD, the redistricting process is about ensuring the well-being and future of the people at large through fair and accountable government.  The redistricting process in New York has for too long disregarded the futures of local neighborhoods in favor of partisan politics.  It’s great to see our chapters in the Hudson Valley work together to remind Senator Ball that he made a commitment to the next generation of Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess that he would support independent redistricting.  Instead, Senator Ball voted to make independent redistricting a future problem to make sure that he gets re-elected in 2 years.”

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.”

Jugba Santi, NYSYD Caucus of Color Downstate Region Vice Chair said ” Independent redistricting matters to the Caucus of Color because it matters to all citizens. As a measure, independent redistricting is an important tool in moving pass the color line. Gerrymandering often splits communities of color and the courts have allowed the protection of incumbents to trump civil rights.”

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