Editorial: Decennial dancing

It’s reapportionment time, the once-a-decade process by which the lines of local legislative districts are redrawn, in theory to better reflect population distribution patterns. The idea is to ensure that each district has roughly the same population.

It starts at the congressional level, and the outcome means much more than the simple shifting of a neighborhood or two across an imaginary boundary from one district to another. Reapportionment can tip the balance of power from one region to another, from one political party to another. In the House of Representatives, for example, close to a dozen seats are likely to shift to the south and west, which could be good news for the GOP.

The 1st Congressional District currently covers Brookhaven, the five East End towns and a sliver of eastern Smithtown. And unless the new boundaries place the St. James home of Randy Altschuler, the presumptive GOP candidate against incumbent Democratic Congressman Tim Bishop, in the 2nd CD, there should be minimal local impact, especially for those of us living in the district’s easternmost reaches.

The same holds true for New York’s 1st Senatorial District, which also includes Brookhaven and the East End.

But a fight is brewing over the shape of the 1st Assembly District. For 20 years, it has stretched from Fishers Island along the North Fork into northern Brookhaven, and includes Shelter Island. Now, a state reapportionment panel suggests placing the East End’s two forks into a single district, in essence returning to the days when Perry Duryea and his successor, fellow Montauk Republican John Behan, held the Assembly seat. The concern here is not just the watering down of the North Fork’s Assembly influence, which in a body dominated by the New York City delegation is all but non-existent, but having our concerns come second to those of the larger, more affluent South Fork.

But it’s early yet, and reapportionment is usually marked by political gamesmanship and, in some cases, litigation. Both major parties do the best they can to redesign (read gerrymander) districts to consolidate their voters and power. We’re a long way yet from state legislative approval of new maps, which must also pass the governor’s muster. One thing is certain, though, the North Fork had little legislative influence to start with and won’t have much when the shouting is over.