ALBANY — New York’s once-a-decade redistricting process has played out in protracted court battles, sowed confusion among voters as well as candidates and exposed deep divisions within the Democratic party.
The congressional and state Senate district maps finalized Friday by a court-appointed independent expert laid the groundwork for what will be an incredibly messy primary season as incumbent Dems square off against one another in several key races around the city and state.
Maps crafted by Jonathan Cervas, the court-appointed special master tasked with drawing competitive, nonpartisan districts, follow a byzantine back-and-forth in the courts that resulted in the state’s highest court determined Democrats unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts in their favor earlier this year.
As a result, critics say communities are being unnecessarily divided and intraparty battle lines are being drawn ahead of the Aug. 23 primary as Democrats desperately hope to retain control of the House.
Longtime Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf described the results of the redistricting mess as an “earthquake for New York politics” that will have most elected officials thinking only of self-preservation.
“People are going to run to protect their jobs, these very good jobs that pay a lot of money and come with a lot of prestige,” he said. “They’re going to do whatever they have to do for themselves.”
In Manhattan, two long-serving lawmakers, Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, are on a collision course after Cervas united their once separate Upper East Side and Upper West Side districts.
Nadler announced early last week that he would challenge Maloney in the 12 Congressional District after being drawn out of his own district, which now only covers Lower Manhattan and a larger swath of Brooklyn.
On Thursday, Maloney said she has no plans to step aside.
“It’s my district,” she said. “I live in New York 12. I represent it now, and I will be running for reelection in New York 12.”
The pair of politicians have each served in Congress for more than three decades. Maloney was unwavering in her decision to stand her ground.
“I think we’re gonna all run on our own. Many of us have many challenges,” she said. “As you know about, a number of us are pitted against each other because they made a decision to move in my district, or someone else’s district.”
The uptown foray is far from the only showdown on the horizon as Democrats across the state are preparing to duke it out over reconfigured districts.
Before the lines were even finalized, fractures within the congressional delegation became clear as rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, announced his intention to abandon his current upper Hudson Valley district and run in the 17th district to the south.
The decision to primary progressive freshman Rep. Mondaire Jones drew rebukes from several high profile fellow Dems and accusations of racism.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez publicly called for Maloney to step down as House Democrats’ campaign chair if he follows through with his plan.
“Given the resources that he has at his helm, it creates a conflict of interest,” Ocasio-Cortez told Politico.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman, whose own district was redrawn to exclude sections of the north Bronx and now stretches further into Westchester, slammed Maloney and bristled at rumored suggestions Jones should make a run for his district.
“(T)wo Black men who worked hard to represent their communities, who fight hard for their constituents in Congress and advocate for dire needs in our communities should not be pitted against each other all because Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney wants to have a slightly easier district for himself,” Bowman said. “The Democratic Party should not tolerate or condone those who try to dismantle and tear down Black power in Congress.
“The solution is simple. Congressman Maloney should run in his own district. I’ll be running in mine,” he added.
Jones upended the debate by announcing he will join a crowded field running for a new seat covering Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.
“I’m excited to make my case for why I’m the right person to lead this district forward and to continue my work in Congress to save our democracy from the threats of the far-right,” he said.
The newly drawn district has garnered interest from former mayor Bill de Blasio as well as several state lawmakers, including state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Assembly members Robert Carroll, Jo Anne Simon and Yuh-Line Niou.
De Blasio on Friday said he’s ready to head to Washington.
“I’m ready right now to serve and address the issues that are so deep in communities in Brooklyn and Manhattan,” he said as he announced his run on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
The new boundaries will benefit incumbent Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, the sole Republican representing the city in Congress, since her Staten Island-centric district will no longer include deep blue Park Slope as Dems had proposed.
“Today, democracy was preserved in New York through the actions of our state courts and their approval of new district lines for U.S. Congressional seats,” Malliotakis said in a statement on Saturday. “Let me also put my opponents on notice; whether the Democrats nominate Pelosi puppet Max Rose or AOC wannabe Brittany Ramos DeBarros, I will defeat them in November.”
In Brooklyn, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, whose Prospect Heights home was drawn out of his district, slammed the new maps for splintering several historically Black neighborhoods ahead of the amended maps released on Friday.
“It would make Jim Crow blush,” he said.
The Brooklyn native fumed over the fact that the new maps were crafted by an outside expert appointed at the behest of a Republican judge from upstate Steuben County.
“I don’t know where Steuben County is. Had no idea it existed. Neither do the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers,” Jeffries complained last week. “It’s in the village of Bath. Closer to Cleveland, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Toronto, Canada.”
Cervas ultimately reunited Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights into a single district.
New York’s redistricting process was meant to be a drama-free affair as a bipartisan commission was meant to redraw the state’s political boundaries based on the 2020 Census.
Instead, the panel deadlocked, which prompted the Democratic-controlled Legislature to come up with their own maps, which were struck down as unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals last month.
That lead to the postponement of both the congressional and state Senate primaries to give Cervas time to come up with more competitive districts than those drawn up by Democrats.
Maps crafted by the Legislature would have given Democrats an advantage in 22 of the state’s 26 congressional districts. Now, the newly proposed lines include eight competitive districts, giving Republicans a chance to pick up seats in the midterms.
“Who controls the House of Representatives may be determined here in New York State,” Sheinkopf said. “That’s how serious this is.”