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State Court Approves Controversial CD Map for New York

May 23, 2022 by Dan McCue
State Court Approves Controversial CD Map for New York
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. (Photo by Dan McCue)

ALBANY, N.Y. — A state court judge formally approved a controversial new congressional map Friday night, ratifying a map that could prove costly to Democrats while forcing two of the state’s most prominent House members to square off against each other in the upcoming primary.

Steuben County Court Judge Patrick McAllister approved the new map only minutes before the midnight deadline he himself set to ensure the process advanced.

In doing so, he apologized for the haste with which the final mapmaking process had to be carried out, but said the result was an “almost perfectly neutral” map.

The previous congressional district map had 19 safe seats for Democrats, while the new map has only 15 safe seats for the party.

In the meantime, the new map includes three safe Republican seats and eight swing seats.

Though he acknowledged the upset the new map caused when a draft version was released last week, McAllister rebuked those, whom he said, “Encouraged the public to believe that now the court gets to create its own gerrymandered maps that favor Republicans.”

“Such could not be further from the truth,” he said.

After Democrats and Republicans both found something to complain about with the new map, court-appointed special master Jonathan Cervas tweaked it to reunite some communities of interest that had been “inadvertently split” the first time around.

Most of the changes involved Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, where Blacks in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights were reunited with one another in one district, and Asian-Americans in Chinatown and Sunset Park in Brooklyn were grouped together in another.

However, even with the tweaks, Cervas preserved some of the map’s most controversial features.

The biggest, no doubt, is his merging the districts of Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, setting up the two for what is shaping up to be a nasty electoral contest.

Another awkward Democratic primary loomed up the Hudson in Westchester County, where two Black Democratic House members were drawn into a single district.

But the worst outcome for Democrats appeared to be averted early Saturday morning when one of the incumbents, Rep. Mondaire Jones, said he would not run for re-election in Westchester. He will run instead in the new 10th Congressional District in Manhattan, taking on former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou.

Republicans were already eyeing pickup opportunities in the suburbs of Long Island and the Hudson Valley that could help them retake control of the House.

But both parties were already girding for civil rights or political groups to potentially file new, long-shot lawsuits challenging the maps.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat and top party leader, called the maps a “constitutional travesty” on Saturday, saying that Cervas’s last-minute changes had still resulted in Black and Latino voting populations shrinking in a handful of districts. Still, he stopped short of saying he or others would file suit.

The final map was a stark disappointment for Democrats, who control every lever of power in New York and had entered this year’s decennial redistricting cycle with every expectation of gaining seats.

They appeared to be successful in February, when the Legislature adopted a congressional map that would have made their candidates favorites in 22 of 26 districts, an improvement from the 19 Democrats currently hold.

But Republicans sued in state court, and McAllister, a judge in the state’s rural Southern tier, ruled that the districts violated a 2014 state constitutional amendment outlawing partisan gerrymandering and reforming the mapmaking process in New York.

In late April, the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, upheld the decision and ordered a court-appointed special master to redraw the lines.

McAllister appointed Cervas, a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon with few ties to New York and scant experience drawing state lines, and delayed the congressional and State Senate elections until Aug. 23.

On Friday, Cervas produced a 26-page report explaining the rationale of his map.

He eliminated one district overall, carving it out of central New York to shrink the state’s congressional delegation to 26. The change was required after New York failed to keep pace with national population growth in the 2020 census.

He made a slew of other changes, responding to a crush of feedback to the initial proposal. For instance, he reoriented his maps for Long Island considerably, creating districts that divided the island north-south rather than east-west, but kept them highly competitive.

Still, Cervas rejected pleas to revert to a traditional east-west split of Manhattan. Doing so would have allowed Nadler, 74, and Maloney, 76, to run in their own districts, avoiding a messy primary conflict, but the special master wrote that he “did not find a compelling community of interest argument for changing the configuration.”

On Saturday, Nadler and Maloney both said they would run in the newly created 12th Congressional District.

“Too often qualified and accomplished women have been told to stand aside for the sake of men’s egos,” Maloney said. “But I have a lifetime of experience standing up to powerful men.”

Nadler said, “the new district belongs to no individual candidate, but instead to the voters who call it home.”

A growing number of candidates have declared their interest in running for the 10th District, which will encompass all of Lower Manhattan and a large swath of Brooklyn.

Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared his candidacy on Friday before the lines were finalized. Hours later, Jones surprised Democrats by announcing that he would follow suit. He has minimal ties to the district, but already has nearly $3 million in his campaign account.

“This is the birthplace of the L.G.B.T.Q.+ rights movement,” said Jones, who is gay. “Since long before the Stonewall Uprising, queer people of color have sought refuge within its borders.”

Niou, a Taiwanese-American progressive who represents Chinatown, declared her candidacy Saturday afternoon.

Rep. Nydia Velázquez, the first Puerto Rican woman to serve in the House, lives within the new district lines, but reiterated on Saturday that she would run in the nearby 7th District.

Two upstate Republicans also averted a potential primary conflict. Rep. Claudia Tenney said she would run for the new 24th District stretching from the outskirts of Buffalo to the eastern shore of Lake Ontario, and Rep. Chris Jacobs said he would run for the 23rd District covering the Southern tier.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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