By Andrea Pineda-Salgado
This a big year for elections in New York City. In the June 28 primary election, voters will be picking candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and assembly members; and for the August 23 primary, congressional and state senate candidates are up for election. Because of redistricting, familiar candidates have found themselves in different districts altogether. Understanding redistricting is key to knowing the impact of your vote. This year, redistricting of Congress has been quite a mess and many people are not happy because some districts have been merged while others have been separated.
It all started with the census
Remember when you were being pressured to fill out the census? The results provided a better picture of the constituents of the country, state and city. It also illustrated how many congressional seats were allocated to New York. Due to population declines, New York lost a seat, leaving the state with 26 seats in Congress. If just 89 more people had filled out the census, New York would have kept its 27 congressional seats. This year, New York State was divided into 26 congressional districts.
What is redistricting?
Every decade after each census, congressional and state legislative districts get redrawn. District borders will be moved and rearranged, some districts may be added and subtracted, all to make sure all districts have roughly the same number of people in them. Every state has its own method of making district maps. New York’s democratic lawmakers re-drew the maps. Having a certain party’s legislators draw the maps can sound problematic and can cause maps to heavily favor the party in power. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened in New York.
Democrats got overconfident and it backfired
While New York is a solidly Democratic state, (President Joe Biden got 61% of the votes), the congressional map lawmakers made would have given Democrats a much larger advantage in the House — they would have gotten 22 out of the 26 congressional seats. Currently, there are eight Republicans in New York State Congress and with the map Democrats originally drew, the number of New York Republicans in the House would have gotten cut in half. According to the state constitution, district maps cannot favor a political party and the Republican party argued Democrats favored their party with the redrawn map.
“Democratic leaders of the assembly demonstrated both arrogance and incompetence,” says Mitchell Moss, professor of urban policy planning at New York University. “They never thought that the courts would overturn them, but they did.”
Democrats were accused of gerrymandering — the political manipulation of district boundaries to favor one party over the other — and as Moss says, they didn’t think the New York State Supreme Court would reject their map.
“They might have been able to do this,” says Moss. “But they tried to get too many Republicans to be running in basically vulnerable areas, which led the courts to see this. This was a political mistake by the Democrats in the state Senate and assembly to overreach, to gerrymander as much as they could.”
This led acting state Supreme Court Justice Patrick McAllister, a conservative judge from Steuben County, to appoint a mapmaker to redraw the congressional map and set the districts all once and for all. This special master, Jonathan Cervas, who is based in Pennsylvania, held the fate of New York’s congressional districts in his hands. Cervas’ first version of the map had Democrats furious and Cervas tried to appease some of their concerns with the final version of the map that was finalized on Saturday, May 21.
What does the new map look like?
One of the biggest changes coming to the congressional districts is the merging of District 34, which covers Manhattan’s East Side, and District 27, which covers the West Side; they will now come together to form District 12, leaving Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler, both Democrats, to compete against each other for it.
“I think that’s a big change and Manhattan hasn’t had a district like that for a long time,” says Moss. “What it really does is take the white population of Manhattan — [which is] largely white — puts it together, and allows, what I would say, the vast Black population of Brooklyn in Crown Heights and Bed Stuy to have their own members of Congress.”
Cervas decided to keep Chinatown and Sunset Park in the same district — they both have a large Asian population.
“If they vote in large numbers, they’re going to be decisive in the 10th congressional district,” says Moss. “If the Asian community is able to align with one other group, they will have enormous potential to influence that election.”
Some Congress members are not happy with these new changes.
“The map prepared by an unelected, out-of-town special master and rubber-stamped in the dead of night by a partisan Republican judge in Steuben County is a constitutional travesty,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries on Twitter, who argues that the judge degrades the Black and Latino voter populations.
With this new map, competition will be very strong, District 10 will have multiple and very different candidates running, like Rep. Mondaire Jones, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and even former Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“I think the African-American community will probably lose one member of the delegation because Rep. Mondaire Jones is [likely] not going to win the 10th congressional district race,” Moss says. “ I’ll be very surprised because he’s alone there. He’s arguing it’s a center of the gay community, but the gay community is not the only community there.”
There are some parts of the map that will be kept the same. Rep. Grace Meng’s District 6 will continue to have Flushing and other parts of Queens. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s District 14 will remain similar to the current district except now she will have more support in the Bronx.
“I think the striking part about this [map] is that the Democrats have lost what they call safe seats,” says Moss. “This is the real fight, the Democrats are not going to have as many seats as they sought.”
With this new map, Republicans will have a handful of seats instead of the four Democrats wanted. In places like District 11, based in Staten Island, Republicans will have an easier time running. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis will likely win reelection.
“The map is done. You can’t change the map,” says Moss. Now, all New Yorkers can do is continue to stay informed on what candidates are running in their districts and vote.
It is also important to keep an eye on the redistricting of the City Council, which Moss says will be “a real challenge.” The New York Districting Commission is starting the process of redrawing 51 New York City Council districts. Hearings have begun and New Yorkers can share public testimonies about what they think. New York City will be voting for Council Members in 2023.
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