The political fight in Albany to redraw the state’s election districts continues in state court as an upstate judge rules that the Democrats’ new maps must be redrawn.
Judge Patrick McAllister ruled March 31 that the new congressional district maps were gerrymandered by the majority Democratic party to tilt the elections in their favor. He gave the Democratic-controlled state legislature until April 11 to come up with more evenly divided districts.
If the new maps don’t pass muster, the judge says the state will have to pay for an independent consultant to complete the task. His ruling is expected to be appealed.
Currently, voters in the Peekskill-Cortlandt-Croton-Ossining region are represented in the U.S. House by either Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) or Mondaire Jones (NY-17). State Senators Peter Harckham (S-40) and Elijah Reichlin-Melnick (S-38) and State Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (A-95) are the local state representatives in Albany. All are Democrats.
Under the new lines rejected by the judge, Congressman Jones gives up Peekskill and Cortlandt, which now fall in Maloney’s district. Ossining, which is in the 17th, remains there in the newly-drawn lines.
Yorktown, which is now in Mondaire Jones’s 17th district, switches over to the newly-drawn 16th, represented by Jamaal Bowman.
Harckham’s 40th state senate district would change its borders and become the 42nd District, still including Peekskill and Cortlandt.
Ossining is in the current 38th state senate district represented by Elijah Reichlin-Melnick. That district would be called the 40th.
Galef’s 95th assembly district is slightly rejiggered, but keeps the northern River Towns.
Galef has announced her retirement from politics after serving for 30 years. She’s endorsed current Ossining Town Supervisor Dana Levenberg, her former chief of staff. Others seeking the Democratic nomination for the seat include Westchester County Legislator Colin Smith, former Peekskill Mayor Andre Rainey and former Peekskill Councilwoman Vanessa Agudelo.
Senator Harckham has announced his candidacy for the newly proposed 42nd Senate District. He was first elected to the New York State Senate in 2018 and reelected in 2020. Harckham serves as the Chair of the Senate Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse.
State Senator Reichlin-Melnick is also seeking re-election. He was first elected in November 2020 and is currently serving his first term. He Chairs the Senate Committee on Contracts & Procurement.
The proposed changes would likely not impair the re-election efforts of incumbents Jones (17th) and Maloney (18th). Each of their districts includes a swath of Westchester voters.
Every 10 years the nation conducts a census as required by Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. After the results are tabulated, the 435 House of Representatives congressional districts are re-apportioned among the 50 states, based on changes in population.
Because New York state did not grow as fast as some other states, its congressional headcount drops by one, from 27 to 26. Currently Democrats hold 19 New York seats, while Republicans have the other eight.
In 2014, state voters passed a constitutional amendment that claimed to shift redistricting out of political clutches and onto an impartial commission divided evenly between the two parties.
Since the commission was split equally between Democratic and Republican appointees, the inevitable stalemate occurred when both sides insisted that there could be no compromise of the gerrymandered lines each draw in their own favor.
The decision where to draw the new lines then reverted by law to the legislature. With Democrats holding two-third majorities in both chambers in Albany, they chose their lines, resulting in the partisan, gerrymandered districts the 2014 law claimed to head off from happening. Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the new districts into law on Feb. 3.
As a result, the split in New York’s House delegation would most likely change, from 19 Democrats and 8 Republicans, to Democrats holding 22 of 26 seats, leaving New York Republicans weaker than ever unless the judge imposes new district lines.
With control of the current House in Washington D.C. up for grabs in the November elections – with Democrats holding 222 seats and Republicans 210 seats (with three vacant) — the New York GOP’s potential loss of four seats could prove decisive. Republicans need to flip six seats in the House to win back control there and block the Biden Administration along party line votes.
While both Democrats and Republicans gerrymander extensively in the states where they control the levers of power, New York Democrats’ skill in tilting the map to themselves has been characterized as egregiously biased even by normally non-partisan analysts, such as Cook Political Report and FiveThirtyEight.
“The Independent Redistricting Commission has not done its job in accordance with a 2014 amendment to the New York State Constitution approved by voters, has wasted taxpayers’ dollars ($4 million budget), and the time of voters and legislators,” said Kathy Meany, President, League of Women Voters of Westchester, in a statement. “The redistricting process in Westchester County has been a political shame and a huge disappointment to our community.”
Attorneys representing Republican voters filed a lawsuit on Feb. 4. in upstate Steuben County state court, seeking to overturn the Democrats gerrymandered district lines. State courts are more actively ruling on redrawn district lines, while the Supreme Court continues to decline to intervene.
In ordering the legislature to try again, Judge McAllister sided with the Republican plaintiffs. He indicated if the legislature’s second effort also is unaccetpable, and he decides to appoint the outside expert, the process will be expensive and might not be concluded before August 23, the last date a primary election could be held.
Republicans have won an unlikely ally in their fight. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Duncan Hosie, a legal fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg Liberty Center, called on the courts to do the right thing.
“We should support the Republican lawsuit that challenges the map,” Hosie wrote. “Their legal argument relies on anti-gerrymandering provisions of the state constitution, which Democrats championed in 2014. If successful, the suit could force New York Democrats to redraw the map. That would be a loss for Democrats but a win for democrats.”
A spokesman for state Democrats said in a published report that their party’s appeal would likely lead to a stay of the judge’s order while the case winds its way through appellate state courts.
Attempts to contact the Westchester Republican Party about potential candidates were not returned.
Jim Roberts is a freelance business reporter based in Peekskill.