News & Politics

IRC releases new congressional maps with few changes

The state Legislature will now vote on whether to accept the new maps or reject them and draw their own.

The IRC proposed a new map of the state’s congressional districts that makes few changes from the current map.

The IRC proposed a new map of the state’s congressional districts that makes few changes from the current map. NYS Independent Redistricting Commission

The Independent Redistricting Commission voted to approve new congressional lines on Thursday that closely align with those already in place, making only minor changes to a handful of upstate districts. It’s still unclear whether the Legislature will vote to accept the proposed map or reject it and attempt to draw their own, as they attempted to do in 2022. At least one Democrat in the state Senate has already indicated he won’t support the IRC’s proposal, but neither Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie nor state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins was ready to offer an opinion on the new map. “The Senate Majority is eager to review the proposed map submitted by the IRC,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. “We plan to discuss and decide our subsequent actions soon, taking into account the election cycle calendar.” A spokesperson for Heastie said simply that the chamber would “review the map put forward by the commission.”

If lawmakers reject the plan, they would have to move expeditiously to draw and vote on a new map if they want to finalize district lines before petitioning begins on Feb. 27. Prior to the commission vote, state Sen. Mike Gianaris, who leads redistricting efforts for his chamber, told City & State that staff did not have a pre-prepared plan waiting in case lawmakers reject the plan. “I trust that our team can turn around a map quickly if necessary, but don’t know if it will be,” Gianaris said in a text before the new proposal became public. He did not offer any additional thoughts when asked following the release of the congressional map.

Lawmakers in the Legislature are set to take the next week off and are not scheduled to return again until Feb. 26. Neither leader gave any indication that they intended to call their members back during their holiday, and some members have told reporters that the Assembly is unlikely to come back early.

Lawmakers need a supermajority to approve the new map, which Democrats have in both chambers. But if just a handful of Democrats don’t support the lines, they could get rejected or require Republican support to get through.

Jeffrey Wice, senior fellow at New York Law School’s New York Census and Redistricting Institute, applauded the redistricting commission for completing its mission and submitting a single new map for approval. Although he didn’t opine on whether lawmakers will accept the proposal, he pointed out that the state constitution places limits on how extensively lawmakers can make changes to a plan approved by a majority of the bipartisan commission. Members approved the new map by a vote of 9-1. “The redistricting process in New York is already two years behind schedule and we’re up against deadlines,” Wice said. “I don’t think anybody has the will to really fight this thing out and then get back in court over again and prolong the process any further.”

State Sen. James Skoufis was the first lawmaker to put out a statement about the proposed map, and he did not mince words. “These maps are a disgrace and ought to be rejected by the Legislature,” the Hudson Valley Democrat said in a statement shortly before commissioners voted to send their plan to the Legislature. Skoufis said the plan only serves to protect incumbents of both parties, pointing to the way the new map splits Orange County between the 18th and 19th Congressional Districts. “In fact, the most meaningful edit to the map sacrifices Orange County at the altar of partisanship, splitting the currently-unified county into two congressional districts in an attempt to protect one incumbent from each party,” Skoufis said. Under the current map, all of Orange County is contained within the 18th Congressional District, represented by Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan. The IRC proposal would split up the county, moving a small portion of it into the 19th Congressional District, represented by Republican Rep. Marc Molinaro. Along with other small changes to the two swing districts – such as moving more of northern Ulster County from Molinaro’s district to Ryan’s district – this shift would make Ryan’s district slightly more Democratic-leaning and Molinaro’s district slightly more Republican-leaning.

The IRC proposal would make an even more significant change to the 22nd Congressional District in Central New York, currently represented by Republican Rep. Brandon Williams. The Central New York district is one of the seats that Democrats are hoping to flip in November, and the proposed map would make it slightly more Democratic-leaning. It is one of the only swing seats with a Republican incumbent that the plan would even somewhat disadvantage. Commissioners did not make any change in any of the districts on Long Island, including the newly Democratic 3rd Congressional District, nor the 17th District in the Hudson Valley currently held by Republican Rep. Mike Lawler – another priority for Democrats to flip.

Most of New York City also remained largely unchanged, including the 11th Congressional District on Staten Island and Southern Brooklyn that has flipped back and forth between parties. Of the more notable tweaks in Queens, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez regained parts of Jackson Heights, while CitiField and southern Corona were moved into Rep. Grace Meng’s district.

As observers wait to see what legislative leaders decide, at least one Republican leader has already come out in favor of the new maps. Former Rep. Lee Zeldin said members of the Legislature shouldn’t make any additional changes to the congressional lines and approve them as they are. “It’s time to end the chaos and confusion Albany Democrats and DC Democrats have insisted on torturing New Yorkers with for illegal, self-serving political calculation and power grabbing,” Zeldin said in a statement. “If the Democrats in the Legislature insist on playing even more hyper partisan political games, they are going to find themselves right back in court.”