By Jim Ellis
Feb. 10, 2022 — The recently enacted New York congressional map is one of the most gerrymandered in the country and designed to reduce the Republican contingent to just four of 26 seats. While Republicans will no doubt challenge the map in court, some of the moves, however, will prove justifiable.
Since the Democrats control the redistricting process in only four states, national pressure came upon the party’s legislative leaders in New York, Illinois, New Mexico, and Oregon to draw the maximum partisan maps. They did so in each case, but when such a map is constructed, invariably some of the majority seats are weakened to the point of being competitive in wave election years for the opposite party. Such appears to be the case with the New York lines.
To begin, the map drawers were able to cut the Republican contingent in half by executing several fundamental strategic moves.
First, they reduced Democratic strength (even with the current map or weaker) in 15 of the current 19 party held districts but still made the seats untouchable. Second, the remaining four Republican districts saw an increase in GOP loyalty. Third, the Republicans were forced to absorb the seat the state lost in national reapportionment, and the Dems were able to take advantage of three GOP members not seeking re-election: Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley; running for governor), Tom Reed (R-Corning; retiring) and John Katko (R-Syracuse; retiring).
Using the FiveThirtyEight statistical organization’s rating of each new district, we can draw conclusions about party performance in each of the new 26 CDs.
The Democratic members receiving politically safe seats ranging from D+20 all the way to D+77 are mostly from New York City: Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens; D+54), Grace Meng (D-Queens; D+24), Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn; D+65), Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn; D+55), Yvette Clarke (D-Brooklyn; D+55), Jerrold Nadler (D-New York City; D+52), Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan; D+67), Adriano Espaillat (D-Bronx; D+77), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx; D+50), Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx; D+72), Jamaal Bowman (D-Yonkers; D+36), and Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo; D+20).
The four safe Republican seats are mostly in upstate New York, with one Long Island exception. Those seats are for Reps. Andrew Garbarino (R-Sayville; R+20), Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville; R+23), Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford; R+26), and Chris Jacobs (R-Orchard Park; R+25).
The collapsed seat is actually Rep. Tenney’s current 22nd District. It was justified combining the 22nd with Rep. Reed’s 23rd because those districts, located adjacent to one another, are the two lowest in population.
The current 22nd District was then combined with Rep. Katko’s current 24th to make the new open 22nd District, which resulted in a D+13 rating and a district again anchored in Syracuse. The voting trends in the new 22nd increase from the D+4 rating that the current 24th carries.
The new draw and Rep. Reed’s retirement allows Rep. Tenney to run in the new 23rd where she will likely have to win a competitive Republican primary, but would have a safe seat in the general election. The new 23rd, however, contains only 10 percent of her current constituency.
Rep. Jacobs’ current 27th District is then pushed northward from his Buffalo and Rochester outer suburbs district into a new safely Republican 24th CD that contains just under 60 percent of his current constituency. He, too, could face GOP primary opposition but will have a safe seat for the general election.
Democrats will have a strong chance of converting open District 1 on Long Island. This seat goes from a R+10 rating that Zeldin held to a D+6. Currently, with Suffolk County Legislators Bridget Fleming and Kara Hahn in the race, along with ex-Babylon Town Councilwoman Jackie Gordon who was the District 2 nominee in 2020, the Democrats have the stronger early contenders. The candidate filing deadline is not until April 7 for the June 28 primary, so the GOP has time to coalesce around a viable candidate of their own.
Rep. Tom Suozzi’s (D-Glen Cove) Long Island-anchored 3rd District increases to D+10 from D+6. He is running for governor and leaves behind a crowded Democratic primary field. The winner will face consensus Republican candidate George Santos (R) who performed surprisingly well as the 2020 nominee.
Rounding out the Long Island seats, Rep. Kathleen Rice’s (D-Garden City) 4th District reduces one point in Democratic strength from D+9 to D+8. At this point, she faces only Republican businessman and Marine Corps veteran Bill Staniford who raised more than $233,000 according to his year-end 2021 financial disclosure report.
The other major Democratic conversion target is freshman Rep. Nicole Malliotakis’ (R-Staten Island) 11th District that moves from an R+13 rating all the way to D+7 but contains 76 percent of her current constituency. The seat includes all of Staten Island and part of Brooklyn, the latter area making the seat more Democratic. Ex-Congressman Max Rose (D), who Malliotakis unseated in 2020, is running again but he may have Democratic primary opposition from former NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. This race, both in the primary and general elections, will generate national political attention.
The Westchester County to Albany area is where the Democratic base is a bit weaker, and likely leads to competitive general elections because the Republicans are fielding stronger candidates in at least two of the seats.
Freshman Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-Westchester County) sees his 17th District reduce from a D+17 rating to D+10. With more than $2.5 million in the bank and no announced opposition to date, he is in strong position for re-election despite having a more competitive district.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-Cold Spring) increases three points in Democratic strength from an EVEN rating under the current lines to D+3 on the new draw. He will face a stronger opponent than from his past races, however, in state Assemblyman Colin Schmitt (R-South Salem).
Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-Rhinebeck) has more than $5.4 million in his campaign treasury and a district that improves for him from his current R+4 rating to a D+4. Facing Dutchess County Executive and 2018 gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro means he might be facing his most difficult challenge despite the new political advantages.
In the Albany-anchored 20th District, Rep. Paul Tonko (D-Amsterdam) sees his district decrease in Democratic strength from D+16 to D+12, but still retains 88 percent of his constituency base. At this point, however, the congressman looks to face relatively weak Democratic primary competition and little in the way of a GOP challenge.
An interesting race could develop in the Rochester anchored 25th District. Here, two-term Rep. Joe Morelle (D-Irondequoit) finds himself in a seat that decreases from D+18 to D+15 and facing a potentially strong Republican candidate. La’Ron Singletary (R) is the former Rochester police chief who has yet to raise much money, but could potentially become a strong opponent for the current congressman and former State Assembly Majority Leader.
Though the New York map is designed to substantially boost the Democrats’ national standing this year, some intriguing congressional races are on tap that could make their final outcome somewhat less prolific than expected.