Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, in happier times.
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
The chaos that has rocked this year’s congressional races in New York entered a new phase on Friday night, when a court-appointed special preceptor – a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon named Jonathan Cervas – released new court-approved district lines, electronically dropped in the middle of the night, that have literally redrawn the map of power in New York. Below are six things to know about how we got here, what it means, and what comes next.
“It seems to have been manipulated to ensure that black people are not represented. It’s an outrage,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told me this week in response to a draft of new congressional maps that cut Bedford-Stuyvesant in half and dropped Brooklyn’s two black congressmen, Hakeem Jeffries and Yvette Clarke, in the same district.
Chopping Bed-Stuy would have been a particularly bitter pill to swallow: For decades, the large black community had been divided into multiple congressional districts, allowing white members of Congress to win year after year. It took a trial in 1966, Cooper v. Ableto create a united neighborhood that soon led to Shirley Chisholm becoming the first black woman elected to Congress in 1968.
Jeffries – a lawyer widely considered to be Speaker of the House in the near future – had tweeted that the proposed initial maps “take a sledgehammer in black communities. It’s enough to make Jim Crow blush. He also openly floated the idea of a lawsuit to challenge the cards as a violation of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits diluting the power of communities of interest along racial lines.
Cervas got the message. “In the Congressional map project, I inadvertently divided the community of Bedford-Stuyvesant,” he wrote as part of a lengthy response to complaints about his first set of district lines. “I placed this community in its entirety in District 8. Bedford-Stuyvesant is now the core of District 8, as it always has been.”
Other minority communities have largely remained intact. The sprawling Seventh District, long represented by Nydia Velázquez — the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress — currently connects the Latino communities of the Lower East Side, Sunset Park and Bushwick. The new Seventh District gets rid of the Manhattan portion of the district and has slightly less Latino voting power (35%, down from 37%), but will likely be where Velázquez will seek re-election.
While that may not lead to civil rights litigation, Jewish leaders have complained to Cervas that redesigning the neighborhood long represented by Rep. Jerry Nadler — which spans the west side of Manhattan and winds through the port to include Borough Park – would eliminate the only -Jewish Quarter in America.
“The Boro Park Jewish community should be connected to communities that share their interests so that they are less politically isolated and their political voices are more likely to be heard,” Jewish Community Relations Council leaders said. in a letter to the state court. . The same letter implored Cervas not to put the east and west sides of Manhattan in the same neighborhood.
“Jews on the East Side can be clearly differentiated from Jews on the West,” JCRC President Cheryl Fishbein and CEO Gideon Taylor wrote. “It is rare for Jews on the East Side to belong to synagogues located on the West Side, or vice versa. To a large extent, West Side Jewish parents rarely send their children to East Side Jewish schools or vice versa.
Cervas did not address the issue directly, instead downplaying the East-West divide in Manhattan: “Even the areas bordering opposite sides of Central Park do not appear to be as sharply differentiated in terms of economic and demographic differences as they are. were formerly. So, while a difficult choice, I find no compelling community of interest argument for altering the configuration of Manhattan’s congressional districts in the proposed map.
By consolidating the east and west sides of Manhattan into a single district, the new maps pit Nadler against longtime incumbent Carolyn Maloney; both said they or they intention attend primary school. It’s arguably a losing proposition for New York: Nadler chairs the powerful House Judiciary Committee, while Maloney heads the Oversight and Reform Committee.
“I served the Court as a nonpartisan expert,” Cervas wrote in his explanation. “These maps were blind drawn from the homes of the incumbents, using the criteria of good government set forth in the New York State Constitution.”
Nadler and Maloney have each spent decades accumulating the seniority and experience necessary to win their presidencies. If the two face off in a winner-takes-all primary, much of that authority will disappear.
The newly drawn Tenth Congressional District looks like a progressive politician’s dream: the Manhattan side includes Chelsea, Greenwich Village, and the Lower East Side, and the Brooklyn side includes Dumbo, Boerum Hill, Windsor Terrace, and all of Park Slope. A long list of pols is permanently or tentatively floating around, including State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymen Jo Anne Simon and Yuh-Line Niou (who announcement she entered the race on Saturday afternoon).
Former mayor Bill de Blasio, who announced his candidacy on MSNBC, should be considered the frontrunner: voters in much of the district have elected him for a generation, from the community school board and the city council (twice ) to Public Advocate and Mayor (twice). As de Blasio’s overall popularity waned towards the end of his term as mayor, his Park Slope base might be willing to fight for him once again.
But a new twist came in the race for the Tenth District shortly after midnight, when Representative Mondaire Jones – a freshman whose Lower Hudson Valley District includes all of Rockland County and parts of the North of Westchester – unexpectedly announced that he would be taking part in the new neighborhood too. (Congressional candidates do not have to live in a district to run.)
“This is the birthplace of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Long before the Stonewall Uprising, queer people of color sought refuge within its borders,” tweeted Jones, who made history (along with Ritchie Torres) as the first openly gay black member of Congress.
Jones’ decision to leave the suburbs to run in the city eliminates the possibility of a showdown in Rockland County against Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who also serves as head of the Democratic Congressional National Campaign Committee and was dragged into in the same district as Jones.
“From my perspective, I’m running right where I landed,” said Sean Maloney, who this week drew criticism from black and Latino leaders (including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), who insisted he resigns as leader of the entire Democratic congressional campaign effort while challenging another incumbent.
A decade ago, an agreement brokered by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo and leaders of the state Assembly and Senate pushed through an amendment to the state Constitution that specified that the Redistricting the maps would be the responsibility of a ten-member Independent Redistricting Commission split equally between Republicans and Democrats. But this year, the panel is deadlocked, unable to agree on a single set of cards, and the legislature has moved forward with its own cards — which violated the Constitution.
“What we said at the time was that this is designed to fail,” Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris told me. “Of course, what we predicted came true. They were deadlocked five to five. They were unable to function. It didn’t matter what lines we drew. The court said we had no authority to enact guidelines of any kind.
So some of the blame for today’s chaos lies with former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was later convicted of fraud, extortion and money laundering (and is recently died in prison); former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who also went to federal prison in an unrelated corruption scandal; and former Governor Cuomo, who resigned last year amid allegations of misconduct.
New Yorkers, after determining which district they are currently in, should be prepared to vote twice this summer, as there will be two sets of primaries. On June 28, New York will hold primaries for statewide positions (governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, and U.S. Senate), as well as races for many local offices, including the state assembly, the civil court and the district chief.
The primary contests for Congress and the state Senate are scheduled for August 23. The August date — right in the middle of when many New Yorkers will be on vacation — wasn’t chosen at random. Federal law requires the primaries to be held early enough to allow for the printing and distribution of overseas and military ballots before the Nov. 1 general election.
Like everything else in politics this year, it’s more unnecessarily complicated than it should be.