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Proposed NY political maps could hurt GOP in House battle

January 31, 2022 Marina Villeneuve, Associated Press
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Proposed political maps released by the leaders of New York’s Democrat-dominated legislature would give the party an advantage in 22 of of the state’s 26 congressional districts and mean reelection trouble for several Republican members of the U.S. House.

The new maps, released late Sunday, could lead to Democrats picking up as many as three House seats and Republicans losing as many as four in the 2022 election.

Initial votes on new congressional and legislative maps, which are being redrawn as part of the nation’s once-per-decade redistricting process, are expected Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. The Legislature faces pressure with the looming March 1 start of this year’s election season.

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New York is set to lose one seat in the House in 2023, due to slow population growth. Republicans had braced for Democrats — who represent about half of registered voters to Republicans 22% — to use their dominating legislative supermajorities to redraw district boundaries to carve up GOP strongholds.

The new maps would do that, forcing several incumbent Republicans to run in districts redrawn to make them far more Democrat-friendly.

In New York City, U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a Staten Island Republican, would have to run in a district stretched to include some of Brooklyn’s most liberal neighborhoods, including the home of the city’s former Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“They know Congresswoman Malliotakis is popular and they can’t beat her on the merits or public policy, so they are changing the boundaries to tilt the scale,” Malliotakis campaign spokesman Rob Ryan said.

On Long Island, the realignment would lump two Republicans, U.S. Rep. Andrew Garbarino and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, into the same district. Much of the territory now represented by Zeldin, who is now running for governor, would become part of a more Democrat-friendly district stretching from the Hamptons to suburbs closer to New York City

Also on Long Island, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi’s district would grow more Democrat-friendly by spanning five counties from Suffolk to Westchester. The district is open as the Democrat runs for governor.

The congressional map in upstate New York would be realigned to create three GOP super districts — one of them now home to U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking House Republican — but make it tough for Republicans to win anywhere else upstate. U.S. Rep. Chris Jacobs would have to move to run again in his western district, which would grow U-shaped to include swaths of North Country.

The central district that U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney won narrowly in 2020 would be spread among several districts. Tenney herself would live in a Democrat-friendly district sweeping from the Hudson Valley, up to Albany and west to Binghamton and Utica — and would have to face off in the election against Democratic U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado.

In part, the maps reflect population shifts. New York City, where Democrats dominate, gained 629,000 people in the 2020 Census, while rural upstate areas home to many Republicans saw populations shrink and shift to cities.

Currently, Republicans hold 8 of New York’s 27 seats in Congress.

New York’s redistricting process is being closely watched nationally because it’s one of just a few states where Democrats hope to use map-drawing power to offset significant gains that Republicans expect to make elsewhere in the battle for control of the U.S. House.

New York’s new maps were, in theory, supposed to have been the product of a bipartisan commission voters launched in a 2014 referendum.

Republicans fared much better under Democratic and Republican commissioners’ proposals.

But the commission’s Republicans and Democrats — predictably — couldn’t come to consensus, leaving lawmakers free to come up with their own maps.

The maps will likely face legal challenges following legislative approval. In Ohio, aggrieved groups have persuaded courts to toss heavily gerrymandered political maps.

State GOP chair Nick Langworthy said his party’s reviewing legal options: “ “For all of their phony protestations about transparency and fairness in elections, what they’re doing is textbook filthy, partisan gerrymandering that is clearly in violation of the New York State Constitution.”

New York’s constitution was amended in 2014 to ban partisan gerrymandering, stating: “Districts shall not be drawn to discourage competition or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties.”

Courts will decide how to define unfair gerrymandering.

Some boundaries would become more convoluted: Democratic U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler’s meandering Upper West Side and Brooklyn district would grow more S-shaped by twisting through Prospect Heights.

But a political district’s “weird” shape alone doesn’t prove gerrymandering, Columbia Law School professor Richard Briffault said.

“It could be people of similar economic class, it could be people of similar ethnicity together,” he said.

New York’s maps have a good chance of holding up in court, according to New York Law School professor Jeffrey Wice.

“It reflects population changes and the loss of a congressional district that had to take place,” he said. “It’s natural the losses and shifts have to occur upstate.”

“Any challenges probably could not stop the maps from being used this year,” Wice said.

Meanwhile, Common Cause New York Executive Director Susan Lerner called for public hearings on maps she called a “major disservice to the voters.”

“The Legislature’s proposed congressional maps preserve the Voting Rights Act districts, but the rest of the lines are so heavily gerrymandered they will be non-competitive,” she said.


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