New York State

Will Democrats hamstring Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s reelection chances through redistricting?

Westchester County will be a pivot point that determines how several other districts turn out.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman is facing a pricey Democratic primary challenge from Westchester County Executive George Latimer.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman is facing a pricey Democratic primary challenge from Westchester County Executive George Latimer. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Since the state Court of Appeals ordered the Independent Redistricting Commission to create new congressional maps, the prospect of campaigning has become hypothetical for New York House candidates for the moment. In the 16th Congressional District, Westchester County Executive George Latimer and Rep. Jamaal Bowman are barreling toward a brutal Democratic primary in the lower Hudson Valley. And where the state’s mapmakers, or possibly the state Legislature, draw the new lines could dictate who will win.

The map the state Legislature submitted before being invalidated as a partisan gerrymander snaked from the north Bronx all the way up to the heart of Putnam County. The approved map drawn by the court-appointed special master was a fairly stout district from the Bronx line in the south up to Tarrytown and the Connecticut border in the north.

In addition to the potential for a redrawn district, the other new wrinkle in the district is the growing outrage at Bowman among Jewish residents and people who support Israel’s war against Hamas.

The Westchester Jewish Council helped organize a solidarity trip to Israel for Latimer before he announced his challenge to Bowman on Dec. 6. And Latimer’s entry into the race will presumably be supported with a sizable amount of spending by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

According to Evan Hoffman, chair of the Westchester Board of Rabbis, Bowman’s 2020 primary win over former Rep. Eliot Engel – who was a Jewish member of Congress and a strong supporter of Israel – rankled some within the community, in addition to Bowman’s vote against an October resolution supporting Israel. After Bowman’s comments on the Israel-Hamas war, including calling for a ceasefire, organizing accelerated to get rid of the two-term member of Congress.

Westchester County Democratic Committee Chair Suzanne Berger said the strength of the Jewish community in the district is centered in Scarsdale, White Plains, Mamaroneck and the South Shore.

Map of current 16th Congressional District
The current 16th Congressional District, color coded by race. Blue represents white residents, orange represents Black residents, green represents Hispanic residents and pink represents Asian residents. (Courtesy of the Graduate Center at CUNY and Redistricting & You)

New York Law School professor Jeff Wice said luckily for Bowman, there’s no legal obligation for the Independent Redistricting Committee to create a district that includes the entirety of the area’s Jewish population.

“I know that the Jewish community, they would prefer to be in a district that can help George Latimer defeat Bowman,” said Wice, “but they can make the argument, this is a political argument, to keep their communities together in one district, to the extent that either the commission or the Legislature can accommodate that.”

Although mapmakers won’t have to contend with the Voting Rights Act when recreating the 16th Congressional District, they still need to ensure each district contains similar amounts of people.

The Lower Hudson Valley’s positioning within New York also complicates things for mapmakers. Wice called the area a “pivot point” for drafters, and in a year where Democrats hope to flip seats, other districts leading upstate will depend on how the 16th District is drawn.

“It was always a population squeeze where districts in the Lower Hudson Valley have crossed the Hudson back and forth over the decades,” Wice added.

In the past two election cycles, Bowman has performed especially well in the district’s urban areas, including in the Bronx, Yonkers and Mount Vernon, that have more Black and brown residents.

The 2022 map from the Legislature that was thrown out would’ve been slightly more friendly to Bowman than Latimer, who openly admitted he would lose if more of the Bronx was included in the district.

CUNY Mapping Service Director Steven Romalewski said there were opportunities to change the partisan composition of the district in the next round of redistricting.

“If you go further into the Bronx, you’re bringing in more Democratic-leaning voters most likely,” he said. “You could go down here to Throggs Neck and this portion of the Bronx to bring in more Republican voters. That’s a possibility. You could go further north to bring in more Republican voters. You could go across the river into Rockland County and bring in some Republican voters.”

Demographic changes are also in play. “So the district lines that were ruled unconstitutional were about a third white. The current district now is also a little bit over a third white. A little less of a share of the Black population, it’s 20% now but used to be almost 30%,” Romalewski said.

He added that when reviewing maps one has to ask, “What type of population will the district add and what (will we) lose?”

This gerrymandered version of the district was ruled unconstitutional in 2022. (Courtesy of the Graduate Center at CUNY and Redistricting & You)

In the 16th Congressional District, there was a decrease of nearly 30,000 Black, Hispanic and Asian voters from the gerrymandered map the Legislature produced in 2022 compared to the map that was used during the midterms. If that change is reversed – in part or in whole – during the next round of redistricting and more voters of color are added back into the district, it could spell trouble for Latimer.

On the other hand, the next set of maps could be more friendly to Latimer if the district is expanded into more of Westchester and Putnam counties at the expense of the Bronx and the southern end of the district.

Latimer said he’s a “known quantity” in Westchester after his decades as an elected official at the local, state and county levels. He said his efforts to deliver for small towns in Westchester County are why he believes he has the relationships to win the race.

“People in Westchester know it,” Latimer said.

Bowman was not made available for an interview, but an adviser to his campaign, Bill Neidhardt, felt that Latimer was trying to divide the district, at least in its current configuration.

“Latimer has presented this as the best strategy, one that can maximize Westchester, suburban voters. He’s even said that’s what he hoped the lines look like. That’s pretty disgusting,” Neidhardt said.

Latimer’s deputy county executive, Ken Jenkins, is the chair of the Independent Redistricting Commission and will guide the initial process for redrawing the lines.

If the district lines changed, Neidhardt said the strategy would be to campaign in even more places.

“If new communities are brought in, we will organize there,” he said.

He said if the district shifts toward the Bronx, it would be beneficial not just because of the demographic change but because of the ease of door-knocking in a densely populated area. The Bronx is already a hotbed of speculation because it would, at least on paper, expand Bowman’s advantage.

“I do think George Latimer will not do as well, as George Latimer has indicated, in earning the votes of voters of color, particularly Black and Latino voters, especially with the way that he talks about race,” Neidhardt said.

Berger said the idea that Bowman has neglected or won’t do well in smaller suburban communities in the 16th Congressional District isn’t so simple, given the fact that legions of elected officials show up at ribbon-cuttings or check signings regardless of whether they helped secure funding for a program. And support among elected officials in the district isn’t unified.

“Each candidate has passionate supporters in those (Democratic) committees. Just because they all live in the city of New Rochelle doesn't mean they all have the same favorite candidate,” Berger added.

Ultimately, she said constituents see the race between a candidate (Bowman) who sees himself as a “representative of a movement” versus a “representative of the district” in Latimer.

With national funding likely to play a big part in the primary, Berger said, “Here in Westchester, we don’t need outside validators.”

Marsha Gordon, executive director of the Business Council of Westchester, said Latimer had proven his support for small businesses.

“I’ve never seen a county executive so committed to small-business growth,” Gordon said.

While the group does not plan to endorse a candidate, she added, “Jamaal Bowman has been silent on small business.”

Activism organization Westchester Community Voices Heard Executive Director Juanita Lewis said Bowman and Latimer were both well-liked and well-respected in the more urban areas of the district. One thing that has tempered excitement for Latimer’s run, she said, was not that he was challenging Bowman but running at all.

“I just go back to the case of, there’s real work to be done at the county level,” Lewis said. “The county executive should be leading the charge and focusing on that and (I ask) what change do you want to do in D.C. that you don’t think is happening?”

On the other hand, Lewis pushed back against the narrative that Bowman was popular because he spends more time in underrepresented communities than he does in whiter, more suburban areas like Rye Brook or Larchmont.

She said, to her knowledge, Bowman was so busy in the district speaking with constituents and solving problems that it was hard to even get on his calendar.

“It’s always interesting that the moments in our community that might not have gotten attention before are getting a little bit of attention, and all of a sudden, it’s a bad thing,” she said. “Like why is it a bad thing that now Mount Vernon or Yonkers is getting some extra resources for things that they actually need?”