- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

New York Republican Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman is considering switching parties in the wake of a redistricting plan that eviscerates his current district, but Republican leaders yesterday said they don't expect him to make a move.

The plan passed by the state legislature yesterday breaks Mr. Gilman's congressional district into four parts, and the 15-term lawmaker probably would face another Republican incumbent in a primary. After the vote, Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the New York Assembly, promised to support Mr. Gilman if he joined the Democrats.

"I'm considering all options as we await a final decision," Mr. Gilman said yesterday, hours before the legislature adopted its plan.

But House Republican leaders dismissed the possibility of a switch.

"I really don't think that's in play right now," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

New York is losing two congressional seats in the decennial reapportionment after the 2000 census. Initially, a federal court-appointed special master drew a map that would pair a Republican and a Democrat in two instances. But some senior members of Congress didn't like that plan, and the assembly went to work on the plan it passed yesterday.

Under that plan, which Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, is expected to sign into law, two Democrats would compete for one district and Mr. Gilman would square off with Rep. Sue W. Kelly, another Republican, in another district. Republicans have expected Mr. Gilman, the oldest member of the House at 79, to retire soon, and they figured that because they had to lose one seat he was a likely sacrifice.

About 70 percent of the new proposed 19th District comes from Mrs. Kelly's old district, while 28 percent comes from Mr. Gilman's.

Mr. Gilman could run against Mrs. Kelly in the Republican primary, but House Republican aides said he probably would lose, because she is considered the more conservative candidate generally a plus in a GOP primary.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, wouldn't speculate on a primary matchup, but said if Mr. Gilman ran against Mrs. Kelly in the general election he probably would lose because the new district is drawn solidly Republican.

The idea of switching came from a conversation Mr. Gilman had with Mr. Silver, the assembly speaker, earlier this week. Mr. Gilman asked Mr. Silver what could be done to save his seat, and Mr. Silver told him he could always switch.

"I said, Ben, the Republican leadership made the determination to do you in," Mr. Silver said. "I said, 'Run as a Democrat, I'll support you. That's what I can do for you.'"

Several Republican aides in Albany said party leaders there aren't taking Mr. Gilman's remarks very seriously, while Republican leadership aides in Washington said opinion was mixed on the likelihood of Mr. Gilman switching parties.

Mr. Gilman, though, seems intent on protecting his seat somehow. He said he filed an injunction yesterday against implementing the new plan, arguing that lawmakers have already begun collecting signatures to put their names on the ballots under the lines in the special master's plan.

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