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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Inside and Outside

1. One of Long Island’s five congressional representatives must lose their seat at the end of 2012, or the districts have to be ferociously gerrymandered during this year’s redistricting process. That’s the choice.

2. New York legislators must create 27 federal congressional districts for the 2012 elections, each with an ideal population of 717,707. In Congressional districting, a population deviation between districts of one percent, plus or minus, is considered acceptable. However, it is expected that New York’s congressional districts will again be drawn with a deviation of virtually zero (deviation attracts scrutiny and scrutiny attracts lawsuits).

3. Nassau and Suffolk together have a population of 2,832,902 and are “owed” the equivalent of 3,947 districts. All of the districts in Nassau and Suffolk must get larger.

4. As currently drawn, the 3rd District (Rep. King) has a deficit of 72,199 people. That’s almost precisely the combined populations of West Hempstead and the Village of Hempstead. Four of the five Long Island districts have deficits larger than the combined population of the City of Glen Cove, the Village of Sea Cliff and Glen Head combined.

5. The creation of new federal and state legislative districts will be the 800 pound bargaining chip during the legislative session. Thanks to this new information age, every contribution from a representative to a legislative political committee and every lobbying expense fuels analysis and rumors. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of the 4th District paid a leading lobbyist over $10,000 from January through October to represent her redistricting interests to legislative leaders in Albany, demonstrating her seriousness about keeping a seat.

6. There has been no serious indication that most legislators are ready to give up control of redistricting.

7. During this year’s brouhaha involving Congressman Twitter and his undergarments, numerous unnamed political sources bragged to reporters that there would be no district left for him in 2012. So much for reform. The understanding that the 9th District will be cannibalized is so prevalent that regular sources of funds on both sides sat out the fall special election to fill the seat. The people and organizations that fund many of our political campaigns don’t want to invest in a congressman whose district is disappearing in a year.

8. Speaking of investments, the total declared campaign spending by the three major party challengers for Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay town supervisors for the 2010-11 campaign cycle was $7,874.85. Two of the three seem to have spent less than $1,000, but haven’t filed paperwork confirming that.

9. Here’s what the three incumbent town supervisors spent on their campaigns: $1,440,566.37.

10. That means funds actually expended by their individual campaign funds. One supervisor spent $27.61 per vote received, the highest ratio I have ever encountered at any level of government. The others spent $5.50 and $9.90 per vote, which is still high for local campaigns, but in line with some federal campaigns.

11. If the editors asked me to write every week about odd, strange or disturbing things I have found in the financial filings of local political campaigns, I could do it. Twenty-seven dollars per vote isn’t just going to outreach or stamps for a campaign headquarters. Over $19,000 was spent on 129 restaurant meetings, including $3,876 at one bagel store-delicatessen. Are potential contributors hit up for funds at these meetings? Does it matter that several were held at a restaurant in a town-owned park? How about the numerous donations made from these political funds to houses of worship, federal political action committees and local civic organizations? Which get money from these pots and which don’t? Why? It’s all legal, but at what point do we get uncomfortable with any of this? Many of us need to do some soul searching about our roles in producing a political system that seems to dissatisfy almost everyone.

12. Hate Washington? Sneer at the thought of politicians in Albany? Millions of dollars changes hands in the village, town, city and county buildings of the 516 area code. You don’t need cable news or the Internet. It’s close enough to touch.

13. This year, three Long Island town governments will redraw their own councilmanic districts.

14. Are we watching?

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net