New York News

Redrawn Congressional Maps Threaten to Upend New York Politics

Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis will run for re-election in a district drawn by a special court-appointed master that is different than the district map created by the Democratic-controlled State Legislature. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Malliotakis)

BAY RIDGE — New congressional district maps drawn by a court-appointed special master and approved by a state judge on May 20 are causing a shakeup in New York politics the likes of which haven’t been seen in decades.

As a result of special master Jonathan Cervas’s cartography, two long-standing Democratic members of Congress, Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, will be pitted against each other in a primary for the newly drawn 12th Congressional District (C.D.) in Manhattan. 

Also after the maps were released, former Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he will run in the Democratic primary in the newly-drawn 10th C.D., a district that now runs from lower Manhattan into Brooklyn and takes in Park Slope, where de Blasio has a home. 

The new maps are causing some lawmakers to breathe a sigh of relief. 

Republican Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis, for one, now won’t have to campaign in Democratic strongholds like Park Slope after the special master removed those areas from her district, the 11th C.D., and put back Republican-leaning areas of southwest Brooklyn that had previously been taken out after the Democratic-dominated State Legislature initially redrew the maps last year.  

Cervas originally divided Bedford-Stuyvesant into different congressional seats when he released a draft of the maps on May 16. But after feedback from elected officials concerned about diluting the voting power of the area’s black electorate, he left the neighborhood intact in his final version.

Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jefferies expressed relief that Bedford-Stuyvesant would no longer be divided but called the redistricting process a constitutional travesty. 

“The restoration of the iconic neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant into one congressional district is a small step,” Jefferies said. “We will not let modest changes to a severely flawed draft map whitewash the violence done to communities of color throughout New York City.” 

The new maps are the result of a lawsuit filed by voters who charged that the maps that had been previously drawn by the Democratic-dominated State Legislature amounted to gerrymandering favoring Democrats at the expense of Republicans. Under the state legislature’s proposed maps, Democrats would have been heavily favored to win 22 of the state’s 26 House seats. 

In April, Judge Patrick McAllister ordered the Democratic-drawn maps to be thrown out and appointed Cervas, a Carnegie Mellon University fellow, to draw new maps. Cervas presented his draft maps on May 16 and McAllister approved them on May 20.

Under the new maps, Democrats would still be heavily favored in 15 of the 26 seats. The rest either favor Republicans or are considered competitive.

District maps for legislative seats are redrawn once every 10 years, following the U.S. Census.

Nadler and Maloney, who have both served in the House for nearly 30 years, have each said they will run. 

“I very much look forward to running in and representing the people of the 12th C.D.,” Nadler said. Maloney said the new district is familiar territory to her. “A majority of the communities in the newly drawn NY-12 are ones I have represented for years and to which I have deep ties,” she said.

Malliotakis, who would have faced a tougher re-election fight if the Legislature-generated map — which removed Republican areas located close to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Malliotakis’ Staten Island-centered district and replaced them with Democratic areas — had remained, praised the court’s decision.

“The heavy hand of one-party Democratic rule in Albany was rejected by the courts, and now the people of our state can choose their elected representatives — not the other way around,” she said in a statement.

Brian Browne, a political science professor at St. John’s University, said this redistricting process was a total mess.

In 2014, the state’s voters approved the creation of a bipartisan redistricting commission. But, because the commission couldn’t agree on maps for the 2020 redistricting process, the State Legislature took over the map-making, he explained. Cervas came in when the Legislature’s maps were tossed out by the court last month.

“This has been so chaotic from the get-go. It’s really the failure of the bipartisan commission to get the job done,” Browne said. “Democrats went too far with the maps that they drew, which brought in this special master at the 11th hour to try to rectify it.”

While he said he thought Cervas did a good job, he added that it’s incumbent upon the state to fix the process. 

“I think that is the one takeaway. We’ve got 10 years before the next redistricting and it’s beholden on everybody to try to fix this process,” Browne said. “It’s been a failure, particularly the fact that these latest maps are drawn in such a short period of time with little to no public input.”