Representative-elect Bob Turner’s (R-NY-9) special election victory in Anthony Weiner’s vacated Queens/Brooklyn congressional district carries greater ramifications for the New York Democratic Party than merely losing a seat that was theirs for the taking. With the Empire State losing two districts in reapportionment, the Turner victory will now likely put at least one upstate Democrat on the political hot seat.
In New York, as in most other states, redistricting is handled through the normal state legislative process. Democrats control two of the three levers of political power here: the Governor’s office and the state Assembly. Republicans have a small majority in the state Senate. This gives both parties a seat at the redistricting table and will send the map to court unless the political leaders can reach a compromise.
Since losing representation is nothing new for this delegation, the traditional method of deciding which seats to collapse is to divide them evenly between the two political parties. Such will likely be the 2012 outcome, too, even though the Democrats have a 21-8 majority in the current NY congressional lineup.
Typically those in power collapse the least senior members’ seats. It is clear that the Democrats will want to collapse Turner’s 9th District, because it is fertile territory that can be used to shore up their other districts. All 29 seats are under-populated, hence the reason the state is dropping two more seats. Thus, if Mr. Turner, the newest freshman, is to see his 9th CD divided among the others in the city, the map drawers will then be looking upstate to collapse a Democratic district. Before, it was assumed that the Democratic loss would come in the city and an upstate Republican would likely be drawn out. Because of Turner’s surprise victory this past Tuesday, it is likely that the tables have turned.
If you look at the population numbers for each of New York’s 29 seats, the district needing the greatest influx of people is that of 82-year-old congressional veteran Louise Slaughter (D). Her 28th District is 105,869 individuals under zero-deviation quota. The district boundaries stretch from Niagara Falls to Rochester and many people believe its configuration resembles a set of headphones. The adjacent district, Rep. Brian Higgins’ (D) 27th District, which encompasses Buffalo and travels southwest along the Lake Erie coastline to the Pennsylvania border, needs an additional 88,436 people and is the state’s second-most under-populated seat. Clearly, the simple mathematics suggests that a pairing of these two sparse seats is a distinct possibility.
Keeping within the practice of “last in; first out,” then freshman Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-NY-26) could also become a target. Ms. Hochul won a special election earlier this year after Rep. Christopher Lee (R) resigned. Her seat stretches between Buffalo and Rochester but contains no portion of either city. It is always easier to collapse a district that lies in the middle of a region rather than one in a corner, and the 26th certainly fits this criteria.
A more intriguing option for the Democrats, however, might be to sacrifice Rep. Bill Owens in the 23rd District. In what should still be a Republican seat, the GOP badly bungled the 2010 special election and the succeeding general vote to elect the novice Democratic politician. Since the 23rd is high on the national GOP’s conversion target list, collapsing this particular seat would almost serve the same purpose as taking another Republican district away. The worst case Democratic scenario would be to sacrifice another member and then lose the Owens seat, too. Giving up the 23rd might mitigate their losses and become the safe play.
Other elimination possibilities are the districts of Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY-22) and Nita Lowey (D-NY-18). Both are down approximately 40,000 in population, and each member is over 70 years of age and has considered retirement possibilities. If either of the two decides not to seek re-election, then the choice of which district to collapse becomes easy.
Expect New York to be one of the last states to finish its redistricting process, meaning it will end well into next year. At that time we will finally learn who wins and loses the game of political “Russian Roulette.”