Members of the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission completed their first true orders of business Friday, including adopting bylaws, a budget and selecting a chair and vice chair after officials finalized the commission’s payroll and compensated leaders for the first time in eight months.
Co-Executive Directors Douglas Breakell and Karen Blatt on Friday were on the commission’s payroll for the first time since the group started meeting in September of last year to start work to redraw the state Senate, Assembly and congressional district lines. The state’s elective districts are redrawn once each decade after completion of the U.S. Census.
The directors are slated to be paid an annual salary of $145,000.
“Payroll has been established for us and all the money is now accessible,” Breakell said Friday to kickoff the commission’s regular meeting.
Commissioners thanked Blatt and Breakell for working for months without compensation.
The commission, which operates separately from the state Legislature, posted active job listings to interview and hire a director of public engagement, assistant director of engagement, a data manager and office manager.
“We are receiving resumes and we’ll start the interview process now that the payroll has been established, so good news all around,” Breakell added.
Directors will also hire a deputy co-executive director, which will not be publicly posted.
The pair worked for many hours over about eight months without pay as commissioners waited for state officials to create the entity and grant the organization access to $4 million in the Legislature’s approved 2021-22 budget. The state Comptroller’s Office created the commission this month and finalized the group’s payroll this week.
Each member of the Independent Redistricting Commission will receive an annual salary of $25,000.
Commissioners unanimously voted David Imamura, a litigation associate with Manhattan-based Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, as chair and Jack Martins, a former three-term Republican senator of Long Island’s 7th District, as vice chair to help lead the group.
“I am so thrilled to be elected as chair of this commission,” Imamura said. “It has been a real privilege to serve with you on this commission in the last year. Amidst all of the tumult over funding, we forget how truly unique and remarkable this is, that for the first time, the voters of New York will have the opportunity to weigh in on the lines themselves. In 2014, voters asked for a new process, and I think that we need to fulfill that mandate and I hope that together we can open and ensure a transparent process to all New Yorkers — not just three men in a room.”
Commissioner Ivelisse Cuevas-Molina, a political science professor at Fordham University, was first to nominate Imamura.
“As commissioner, he has carried out the duties and responsibilities of chairing the commission’s public meetings for the past several months (and) doing an upstanding job even as he has become a new father,” she said. “Furthermore, it is my view and I hope that it is the view of those who value the diversity of our country and our state, that it is of major importance that the chair of the commission be a member of the fastest-growing population of the United States and that this community deserves more representation in our public sphere. Commissioner Imamura will do that.”
Commissioner John Flateau, a business professor at CUNY’s Medgar Evers College, seconded the nomination, noting Imamura is the first Asian-American in state history to serve on a redistricting commission.
Commissioner Charles Nesbitt nominated Martins for vice chair, seconded by Commissioner Ross Brady.
“Jack has shown great leadership in his time of service on the commission, I think interacting with you, David, very effectively,” Nesbitt said. “We’ll be pleased to have this service continue as one of our leaders.”
Martins thanked the commission for selecting him as vice chair.
“We have a lot of work to do and it’s great to finally be in a position of actually getting the work done,” Martins said. “It’s a daunting task, but I know we’re up to it.”
Martins reflected on the importance of the commission, which will receive input from New Yorkers, public organizations and other entities, to draw fair maps and keep relevant communities together within elective districts.
“I see representatives from our great state from all four corners, from all kinds of backgrounds, from all different perspectives,” Martins said, recalling how his parents immigrated to the state from Portugal fewer than 50 years ago.
“Here we are, being part of the Independent Redistricting Commission, and taking some of that history as an immigrant household and understanding what some of those immigrant households are looking at,” Martins added.
Blatt and Breakell met with web developers to create the commission’s website for public engagement, to post meeting agendas and recordings and public hearing dates. The directors anticipate receiving cost and time estimates from vendors next week, with the site going live within two weeks to one month, Blatt said.
The state’s Independent Redistricting Commission will have two offices — one in Manhattan and another in the Albany area.
Commissioners on Friday unanimously adopted bylaws to be posted on the group’s website and adopted a budget for its $4 million, including $1,000,040 for personal services and $2,960,000 for nonpersonal services.
New York voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2014 to change the redistricting process beginning with the 2020 Census.
The commission’s first maps must be publicized by Sept. 15, and submitted to the Legislature by January 2022. The new state lines are supposed to be in place for the 2022 elections. Until the 2014 change, state lawmakers drew district maps requiring passage in both houses of the Legislature.
Eight commissioners are appointed by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx; Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers; Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay, R-Pulaski; and Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda.
Ortt is set to appoint a person to the commission by June 5 after former commissioner George Winner resigned May 5.
The new state legislative and U.S. congressional lines are supposed to be in place for the 2022 elections.
Democrats’ new constitutional amendment plan must be approved again by a separately elected session of the Legislature. The plan to amend the Constitution is slated to go before voters on the Nov. 2 ballot.
The commission is next scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. June 11.