For months, Westchester County Executive George Latimer has been nudged towards running for Congress in New York’s 16th Congressional District against incumbent Rep. Jamaal Bowman. He would be a formidable candidate in the Democratic primary, thanks to strong name recognition in the district and a decent campaign war chest, and he is widely expected to eventually jump into the race. But so far, he has made a point of refusing to confirm his candidacy. The reason may be New York’s ongoing fight over redistricting.
The final boundaries of the state’s Congressional districts are currently up in the air. Last year, the Court of Appeals struck down the district map passed by the state Legislature on the grounds that it was an unconstitutional gerrymander, which resulted in a court-appointed expert drawing a new, more Republican-friendly map for the 2022 election cycle. Democrats are now arguing that the court-appointed expert’s map was just a temporary fix, and the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission must be given the chance to draw new district maps before the 2024 election.
If the Court of Appeals accepts that argument, the Independent Redistricting Commission – which is led by Latimer’s deputy, Ken Jenkins – will have the opportunity to change the boundaries of the 16th Congressional District. The district currently includes much of Westchester and a sliver of the northern Bronx and is home to many Jewish voters who have turned against Bowman. Should the district lines change, it will change the dynamics of the race. If the district were drawn to exclude some heavily Jewish areas of Westchester or to include Bronx neighborhoods like Co-Op City, Bowman would be much tougher to beat. But if the district were drawn to include even more neighborhoods in northern Westchester , it would likely benefit Latimer.
“That's an important factor,” political consultant John Tomlin told City & State. “Anyone's gonna want to know where their voters are and if you think about it, if they're going to make changes to that district, where are they going to make the changes,” Tomlin said. “Does it mean that it's going to go further north into Westchester County, which conventional wisdom (says) would benefit Latimer or does it mean that it goes further south into the Bronx? Conventional wisdom is that that would benefit Bowman, but it depends on where in the Bronx, right?”
He added that the ramifications of line changes in Bowman’s district would extend through the state, shaking up the race for the state’s 17th Congressional District, which Democrats are hoping to take back from incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Lawler.
“The thing about redistricting is you can't move one piece without moving another, right? So you move one thing, it sets off a chain reaction where six other districts are affected,” Tomlin said.
Evan Hoffman, chair of the Westchester Board of Rabbis, said that the district’s Jewish community is paying close attention to any potential changes to the district’s boundaries that could dilute the Jewish vote.
“I would say that Westchester residents of any race, religion or creed, would all be better served by having a congressional district which represents roughly our county and nobody benefits from having it piecemeal,” he said. “But the Jewish community in particular, with its desires for one candidate to oust another certainly would not want to see the lines change.”
Many of Bowman’s Jewish constituents are supportive of Israel and concerned that he has not done enough to combat antisemitism in the wake of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza. Hoffman said that Bowman has only attracted middling support among the Jewish community since unseating Rep. Eliot Engel in 2021 and many residents of the district are looking forward to the chance to replace him with Latimer.
As it stands, Hoffman said, the lines give the Jewish community and Westchester County in general a political voice. If those lines changed, he added, “it may be beneficial to the incumbent, Mr. Bowman, but that's just beneficial to him. It's not beneficial to the community.”
Latimer and Jenkins did not respond to requests for comment.