Redistricting commission submits new Assembly maps, with few changes

Now the state Legislature will review the redrawn districts.

The state Independent Redistricting Commission

The state Independent Redistricting Commission Screenshot, State Independent Redistricting Commission

The state Independent Redistricting Commission voted to advance the new draft map of the Assembly districts on Thursday to be reviewed by the state Legislature. The new map made only minor changes to the current map, which was only used in the 2022 Assembly elections. That was somewhat of a backtrack for the commission, since its December draft map had some radically different districts.

After introducing the first draft last year, the redistricting commission held a series of public hearings across the state. Several members of the commission talked about the impact of having public testimony reflected in the latest iteration of the map. “The draft was for public input and public consumption and we were going to listen to you and that clearly was done,” Independent Redistricting Commission Chair Ken Jenkins said. Commissioner John Flateau also underscored the process of receiving public input during his remarks. “I want to thank the thousands of New Yorkers’ input in this process. We heard you and hopefully, our work product will reflect the will of the people,” Flateau said.

While commission members were largely celebratory of what they described as a “historic moment” of advancing one map to the state Legislature for consideration – rather than two maps, each backed by Democratic or Republican appointees, as they did last year – Commissioner Ross Brady detailed his “problems” with the latest Assembly map. “I believe, after looking at this map, that we skewed too slavishly to what were already drawn legislative lines,” Brady said.

Some pundits agreed. Steven Romalewski, director of the CUNY Mapping Service, tweeted that 38 of the new districts were exactly the same as the old ones and another 58 districts were 99%-100% similar to the previous map. Rachel Barnhart, a Monroe County legislator, shared a map of the new districts laid over greater Rochester on Twitter, writing, “There is no independent commission that would come up with this. Incumbency protection looks like this.”

Jeffrey Wice, a professor at New York Law School, underscored the similarities between the latest Assembly map and the one that was used in last year’s elections. “I think the Commission knew that the Legislature had the ability to reject the map in the final big picture and it tried to create a map that was realistic and received the support of both parties,” Wice said.

Areas of interest

Roosevelt Island is drawn into an Assembly district along with the Upper East Side of Manhattan, as it currently is, rather than being paired with parts of western Queens, as the December draft map suggested. That change was strongly opposed by members of the public, including the island’s current Assembly member, Rebecca Seawright.

The district spanning from the North Shore of Staten Island to lower Manhattan, currently held by Assembly Member Charles Fall, was also maintained. The draft suggested keeping that district limited to just Staten Island. One commissioner, Brady, voted against the proposal in part because of this district covering both terminals of the Staten Island Ferry, calling it “an abomination of a district.”

Southern Queens neighborhoods with a significant South Asian and Indo Caribbean population will continue to be split among multiple districts. The IRC’s draft map proposed a new substantially redrawn Assembly District 24, including South Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park – a plan that was praised in public hearings. Activists in those neighborhoods have been among the loudest voices across the multiyear redistricting processes, and they’re not happy. “So incredibly disappointing that the richmond hill/south ozone park district is gone,” tweeted Aaron Narraph Fernando, who lives in South Richmond Hill. “The IRC nailed it and killed it, dooming us for another decade to advocate for better representation.” While a South Asian Assembly member, Jenifer Rajkumar, currently represents a portion of the neighborhood, they will continue to be split among a district held by Assembly Members David Weprin, who is white, and Khaleel Anderson, who is Black.

Maybe the biggest change from the current maps to the new proposal being sent to the Legislature was the complete redraw of Assembly District 101, held by Brian Maher. It’s currently long and thin, stretching more than 120 miles from Madison County near Utica to Orange County near Monroe. In the new maps, District 101 is more compact, stretching across four counties rather than six.

Why this again?

After Steuben County Judge Patrick McAllister invalidated New York’s proposed congressional, state Senate and Assembly maps in 2022, a special master created new congressional and state Senate maps. The Assembly map was allowed to stay in place, but – amid calls from political activists – the court then ruled the proposed maps could only be used for the 2022 election and had to be changed for 2024. The Independent Redistricting Commission was given another chance to draw the Assembly maps with a deadline of April 2023. The Legislature is expected to approve these maps and put them in place for the 2024 Assembly elections. The state Court of Appeals dismissed a challenge to the legality of the Assembly map process on Thursday and, as a result, the Legislature’s forthcoming decision on the latest Assembly map will be valid.

However, the yearslong redistricting saga could still continue. A case pending before the appellate division of the state Supreme Court could result in the Independent Redistricting Commission being given another chance to redraw the state’s congressional maps. Gov. Kathy Hochul and state Attorney General Letitia James are among those who’d like to see that, thinking it would result in more favorable lines for Democrats.

This story was updated with information about the redistricting court cases.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the court reviewing the ongoing lawsuit on the state’s congressional maps. An earlier version of this story also mischaracterized the latest Assembly maps as the final version.

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