New York's redistricting commission fails to agree on new map; what comes next

Democrats on New York’s redistricting commission threw up their hands Monday, a day before a bipartisan panel – apparently in name only – was to submit redrawn congressional boundaries to state lawmakers.

That means the Legislature, which is overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats, can now seize control over a reapportionment process voters hoped would minimize gerrymandering.

“We have negotiated with our Republican colleagues in good faith for two years to achieve a single consensus plan. At every step, they have refused to agree to a compromise,” the commission’s Democratic members said in a statement they released Monday morning.

The redistricting commission had been mired in partisanship, and many had lost hope it could come up with a bipartisan proposal in its first outing since New York voters established it in 2014.

“This commission has been a sham since day one when Democrats totally co-opted the process. They made clear they had no interest in working in a bipartisan manner to draw lines that were in the best interest of New Yorkers,” said Nick Langworthy, the state Republican Party chairman.

The state Independent Redistricting Commission released two maps Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, that are the proposed new district lines for Congress. New York will lose one seat. On the left, Republicans proposed cutting a Hudson Valley district; on the right, Democrats proposed doing away with a Southern Tier district
The state Independent Redistricting Commission released two maps Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, that are the proposed new district lines for Congress. New York will lose one seat. On the left, Republicans proposed cutting a Hudson Valley district; on the right, Democrats proposed doing away with a Southern Tier district

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While Republicans control redistricting across huge swaths of the country, New York is a rare place where Democrats wield extraordinary power over the redrawing of congressional lines. How the state carves out its congressional districts could decide control over the U.S. House.

Even as the Empire State will see its representation in the House drop from 27 to 26 under the latest Census maps, Democrats could potentially gain seats in the New York delegation.

The commission had until Tuesday to come up with new maps agreeable to state lawmakers, who earlier this month rejected the commission’s most recent proposals. That was expected, considering the commission submitted two sets of plans – one favoring Democrats, and the other Republicans – underscoring deep divides.

“It’s unfortunate that New York’s so-called redistricting reform has created redistricting gridlock,” Steven Romalewski, director of the CUNY Graduate Center’s Mapping Service, said Monday.

He called on the Legislature to honor the hundreds of comments collected by the commission over the past months.

“Now that the state legislature will be drawing the lines, they need to honor that public input with districts that are fair and representative,” he said.

A federal court drew lines the last time around, after the Assembly and state Senate failed to break an impasse over new lines. At the time, Republicans controlled New York’s Senate.

Republicans expect the new maps to land in court yet again.

“We’re looking at all our legal options,” Langworthy said Monday.

The stakes couldn’t be any higher. If Republican’s can wrest the gavel from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, it would thwart Biden’s policy agenda heading into 2024.

“Pelosi looks to California, Illinois and New York to solve the problems that she has to maintain the gavel,” Langworthy said. “I don’t think that a strategy like that is going to work.”

Democrats hold a 19-8 advantage in the state’s 27-member congressional delegation.

Reps. Tom Reed and John Katko, both upstate Republicans, have said they wouldn’t seek reelection.

Republicans concede that the loss of two incumbents could offset some expected Republican gains elsewhere.

Republicans worry that Democrats could gerrymander their way into gaining as many as four or five seats.

The shift in the state’s population from rural to urban is especially problematic for Republicans. That means the state’s power center is further gravitating toward New York City, a bastion for national liberalism, which saw its population surge 629,000 new residents to 8.8 million.

That could dilute Republican influence in the country’s most populous megapolis and possibly erode GOP control of districts on Long Island and Staten Island.

“There’s many instances where they’ve ignored the input that was given to them during public hearings. They gerrymandered lots of different communities of color seemingly in an attempt to protect incumbents,” said Asher Ross, who directs a redistricting advocacy campaign called “Mapping our Future” for the New York Immigration Coalition.

Ross said Democrats’ attempt to weaken U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican from Staten Island, would come at the expense of a largely Latino and Asian American community in Brooklyn that could wind up in what is now her district.

The Democratic plan would also redraw lines for the district now held by U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez. The proposal would cleave Asian American voters in Manhattan’s Chinatown from those in Brooklyn.

The Republican proposal, on the other hand, would preserve the continuity of the Asian American vote in Velazquez’s current district.

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans are wrangling over where lines should be drawn for the district currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, whose Hudson Valley district is almost evenly split between the parties.

A super PAC called No Surrender NY, which aims to preserve and expand Democratic representation, suggested the Legislature’s supermajority should use the opportunity to push back against the far right.

The PAC urged Democratic lawmakers in the statehouse “to reject a false ‘bipartisan’ framework that demands compromise with the far right ideology of today’s New York Republicans.”

The 2014 voter referendum banned partisan gerrymandering, and said the redistricting maps could not favor or disfavor political parties or candidates.

New Yorkers could file lawsuits arguing the maps are tainted by partisan gerrymandering in state court but would face a high bar, according to New York Law School professor Jeffrey Wice.

“It’s very difficult to challenge redistricting plans in New York because courts have provided a lot of deference to state legislatively drawn maps,” Wice said.

Associated Press Writer Marina Villeneuve in Albany contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Poughkeepsie Journal: New York redistricting can be handled by legislature