News & Politics

State Legislature proposes new congressional map

The new map would extend Rep. Tom Suozzi’s district into Suffolk County and move Co-Op City into Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s district.

State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris introduced a bill early Tuesday morning containing new congressional district lines.

State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris introduced a bill early Tuesday morning containing new congressional district lines. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Democratic lawmakers on Monday once again upended the redistricting process when they rejected a bipartisan proposal for new congressional districts in favor of drawing their own. The Legislature’s proposed map, released early Tuesday morning, is far less bombastic than the last time they attempted to draw their own maps in 2022, nudging some districts further to the left while offering relatively minor changes to the plan Democrats voted down. But as legislative Democrats appeared to play it safer, in hopes of avoiding yet another redistricting lawsuit, others in the party were left wishing they had taken bigger swings.

The Legislature’s newly-released map makes some districts a little more blue than the bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission’s map would have done, including the 3rd Congressional District on Long Island, recently won by Democrat Tom Suozzi, and the 19th Congressional District in the Hudson Valley, held by Republican Rep. Marc Molinaro. The legislative proposal also keeps the Independent Redistricting Commission’s proposed changes to the 22nd Congressional District in Central New York, held by Republican Rep. Brandon Williams, that would also bump up Democrats’ favorability for the seat based on 2020 election results. 

On the primary side, a tweak to the 16th Congressional District held by Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman would place Co-Op City back into his district, while removing part of the Wakefield neighborhood of the Bronx. That could play a role as he attempts to fend off a primary challenge from Westchester Executive George Latimer.

Lawmakers introduced and promptly amended the new redistricting bill on Monday before midnight, meaning that legislators can vote on the new congressional lines as soon as Thursday. They could vote even sooner if Gov. Kathy Hochul offers a message of necessity, which would waive the three-day aging period usually necessary for legislation. Although the bill history says all changes were made before midnight, the amended language was not actually made available until the early hours of Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday, Hochul told reporters at an unrelated press conference that offering a message of necessity was one of the “options” that she had. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters Tuesday afternoon that he hopes to get the new lines approved as soon as Wednesday and is in “discussions” with the governor to get a message of necessity issued. 

In addition to spelling out new congressional district boundaries, the proposed legislation also removes limitations on the degree of changes that lawmakers could impose in their own proposal. The language states the bill “shall supersede any inconsistent provision of law,” specifically citing a section of the law from 2012 that would limit their map to only 2% changes. It’s a move meant to help shield Democrats from another lengthy lawsuit that could cause further delays, even if their proposal doesn’t make very large changes compared to the one they rejected.

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay told reporters on Tuesday that he and his conference do not intend to bring a lawsuit challenging the new congressional lines, and Politico New York reported that top Republicans in the state don’t plan to sue.

Frustration vs. pragmatism

The decision by Democrats to take a chisel rather than a wrecking ball to the district lines could be prudent – the last time Democrats attempted to draw their own congressional maps, a judge ruled that they had engaged in unconstitutional gerrymandering. A softer touch could help the new proposal hold up against scrutiny while still making some gains for Democrats. “At such a critical time in our nation’s history, anything that helps the party win back seats in this state so we ensure responsible rule in Washington and policies that reflect the interests of the people is worth (it),” Jake Dilemani, a Democratic consultant with Mercury Public affairs, told City & State. He added that “with the hand that is being dealt this is a sensible approach.” 

“I think they’re trying to strike a balance with what will get approved by the Court of Appeals,” said one Democratic insider, explaining that lawmakers could easily gerrymander but needed to consider what would stick. “Basically, it’s an improvement that can be upheld and could flip the House,” the insider said. The New York Times reported that Democrats close to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries privately agreed with that sentiment. Jeffries is a key power player in New York and the battle for Democrats to take back Congress. Through a spokesperson, he previously criticized the bipartisan map that Democrats rejected.

Originally tasked with drawing new maps based on the 2020 census, the Independent Redistricting Commission failed to come to a consensus in 2021 and 2022, prompting the Legislature to step in and draw their own lines. Republicans sued, claiming that the new lines were a partisan gerrymander that violated the state constitution. A court ultimately tossed the Legislature’s map and directed an outside expert to redraw the state’s congressional districts. Those are the congressional lines currently in place. 

Last year, though, Democrats won a separate lawsuit after arguing that the court-drawn maps should be thrown out so that the Independent Redistricting Commission could complete its constitutionally-mandated work – and giving Democrats another shot at a gerrymander. The Independent Redistricting Commission submitted a bipartisan map to the Legislature earlier this month, but many Democrats came out against the proposal, urging state lawmakers to reject it.

But there was a lot of frustration over the new map from around the state. “We as a party need to fight for upstate New York because our rural communities matter more than incumbent protection,” said Paolo Cremidis, executive director of rural organizing group the Outrun coalition. “These lines are disappointing but nothing will stop us from continuing to organize to have more diverse rural representation in our Democratic party.” 

Down in New York City, Democratic Council Member Justin Brannan expressed frustration with the newly proposed lines on social media. “When Republicans have the pen, they stab us in the neck,” he wrote on X in reference to another post that criticized Democrats for not drawing bolder maps. Notably, the Legislature’s newly-proposed map made no changes to the 11th Congressional District, currently represented by Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, which covers Staten Island and some parts of southern Brooklyn that Brannan currently represents in the City Council. 

One progressive organizer said there is dissatisfaction among the left that lawmakers weren’t bolder, particularly when it came to uniting “communities of interest,” which had been cited as a reason to reject the bipartisan map and draw a new one.

Latimer was spotted in the Capitol on Tuesday, generating buzz about what business the congressional candidate had in Albany the same day legislators released new congressional lines that could impact his race. He told City & State that he was in town on county business, but it didn’t stop rumors about the congressional lines.

Changes on Long Island

The new legislative proposal makes a number of changes compared to the rejected bipartisan map – and compared to the districts currently in place. It also kept several seats of interest the same, while offering some benefits to both Republicans and Democrats.

On Long Island, the 3rd Congressional District district dips slightly into Suffolk County, taking part of the Town of Huntington, including the Democratic-leaning areas of Cold Spring Harbor and Huntington Station. The entirety of Huntington currently resides within the 1st Congressional District held by Republican Rep. Nick LaLota. Suozzi’s district would lose the more conservative area of Massapequa, which would shift to the 2nd Congressional District held by Republican Rep. Andrew Garbarino. 

The change would make Suozzi’s seat a little safer for Democrats, based on 2020 election results, and Garbarino’s seat, already conservative, slightly more Republican. The 1st District, currently held by Republican Rep. Nick LaLota, would also become slightly more Republican, picking up a small portion of the 2nd District along the south shore to make up for the part of Huntington it lost. The 4th Congressional District would remain unchanged. Although on paper, it favors Democrats, it is currently held by Republican Rep. Anthony D’Esposito.

Changes in the Bronx

In New York City, the only notable change comes in the 16th Congressional District – where incumbent Rep. Jamaal Bowman is fending off a challenge from Westchester Executive George Latimer. Bowman’s district will gain Co-Op City in the Bronx, while losing part of the Wakefield neighborhood in the same borough. The rest of the district will remain the same.

The proposal also leaves untouched the 11th District, covering Staten Island and Southern Brooklyn and represented by Republican. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis.

Changes in the Hudson Valley

In the Hudson Valley, the new proposal reverses one thorny provision from the Independent Redistricting Commission that would have split up Orange County between the 18th Congressional District, represented by Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan, and the 19th Congressional District, represented by Republican Rep. Marc Molinaro. Orange County is currently located entirely within the 18th Congressional District, and the newly-proposed map will keep it that way.

Instead of breaking up Orange County, lawmakers proposed making other changes to Ryan and Molinaro’s districts. For Ryan, the legislative proposal would shift the parts of Ulster County included in the district, but would effectively keep the partisan lean of the seat the same. Molinaro’s seat would lose Tioga County and part of Cortlandt County, while gaining more of Otsego County and much of Rensselaer County. The Independent Redistricting Commission would have made Ryan’s seat slightly more Democratic and Molinaro’s seat slightly more Republican, but the legislative proposal keeps both seats competitive.

Changes upstate

The legislative proposal would extend the 22nd Congressional District, currently held by Republican Rep. Brandon Williams, to include the City of Auburn and other parts of Cayuga County, while removing part of Oneida County, including Rome. The Independent Redistricting Commission proposal that lawmakers voted down on Monday would have made the exact same changes to the district. The changes are expected to make the district more friendly to state Sen. John Mannion, who is currently running in the Democratic primary for the 22nd Congressional District.

The changes to the 22nd Congressional District would impact the heavily Republican 21st Congressional District. That district is currently represented by Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, the chair of the House Republican Conference who’s widely considered a potential running mate for former President Donald Trump. Under the legislative proposed map, Stefanik’s district would gain part of Oneida County while losing a sliver of Rensselaer County to the 20th Congressional District. That seat, currently held by Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko, would be extended east to Hoosick Falls and the Vermont border. But none of those changes should have a significant impact on the partisan makeup of the districts.

– with reporting from Austin C. Jefferson. This story has been updated throughout with reactions to the new map and additional details on the changes made to congressional district boundaries.

NEXT STORY: NY Dems toss bipartisan congressional map