Special Master Carves Up New York’s Congressional and State Senate Seats With New Maps
In a draft filed with the court Monday, Jonathan Cervas significantly redrew districts in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Long Island. The state Senate stands to change even more.
A court-appointed expert has redrawn several closely watched Congressional districts in New York City, including those currently held by Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D), Rep. Jerry Nadler (D) and an open seat that had previously drawn State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D) as a congressional candidate.
In a court filing on Monday, Special Master Jonathan Cervas said his version of New York’s political boundaries will create eight competitive races across the entire state, as opposed to just three competitive races using the maps created by the Democratic-controlled state legislature. The changes could have a major impact on the balance of the House of Representatives.
Cervas also redrew the state’s Senate districts, which will have a huge impact on who runs for, and holds, those seats. The reimagined political boundaries show major departures from existing political lines, drawn by the Republican-controlled state legislature in 2011.
His maps are a draft, but will be finalized within days, by Friday, May 20.
In the 11th Congressional District covering Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, Cervas changed its boundaries by linking parts of Red Hook to Sunset Park and a swath of southeastern Brooklyn, removing a key part of Rep. Nydia Velazquez’s current seat. However, he removed super-liberal Park Slope, which Albany lawmakers had added in an effort to link deep blue Brooklyn to the swing district.
Cervas’ map is a boost to the reelection odds of Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R—S.I.) in an expected rematch against Democrat Max Rose.
Cervas also significantly redrew with the 3rd District in western Long Island, which had been redrawn this year by state lawmakers to be more solidly blue by including parts of The Bronx and Westchester. That had opened the door for Biaggi (D-The Bronx/Westchester) to run for the newly drawn district.
But now, Cervas’ maps have drawn Biaggi’s Westchester residence out of the congressional seat. His maps keep all of the 3rd District within Long Island, disconnecting all portions in The Bronx and Westchester.
Manhattan’s lines have been carved up, as well. District 12, now held by Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, has been expanded to include all of Midtown and both the Upper West and Upper East sides, but would no longer include any part of Queens.
That may have a big impact on her primary this year, which has attracted multiple challengers on her left, including Suraj Patel, who is running against her for the third time. In a tweet on Monday, Maloney said she will run to continue representing the newly drawn district, which includes “a majority of the communities … I have represented for years.”
That race may also include Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose current seat, District 10, will now cover only Lower Manhattan and a much larger chunk of Brooklyn, from Carroll Gardens to Borough Park. In a statement on Monday, Nadler said he would run in District 12 if the draft maps “become permanent.”
With the midterm elections looming, the stakes are high for New York’s redistricting.
While it’s unlikely that the partisan balance of the closely contested House of Representatives comes down to New York, “it’s not out of the question,” said Michael Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and a redistricting expert.
“There’s a lot of Democratic heartburn on this because this has implications, not only for New York, but also, potentially, for the nation,” he said.
On the state Senate level, the new maps have brought new turmoil to a campaign season already upended by the redistricting back and forth.
The maps created by Cervas carve up the state’s existing Senate seats in dramatic ways, which may threaten incumbents all over the city.
Cervas’ analysis says the Albany legislature’s version of the Senate map created just six competitive districts. According to his new maps, there are now 15 competitive areas.
In the boroughs, some existing districts are now unrecognizable. In western Queens, Senate District 12 held by Sen. Michael Gianaris has been split into at least three new areas. In Brooklyn, Senate District 20, now represented by Sen. Zellnor Myrie, created a serpentine shape that stretched from Sunset Park all the way to Brownsville. Now, it has been newly made much more compact, encircling Prospect Park to cover parts of Park Slope and Crown Heights.
In Manhattan, Sen. Brad Hoylman’s seat in District 27 has been moved south to cover nearly all of Lower Manhattan. His previous territory stretching from the East 20s to the Upper West Side has been split into four new districts.
Hoylman has already announced he is considering throwing his hat in the ring for one of the new Congressional seats: District 10, stretching from Manhattan into Brooklyn.
Next Up: Double Primaries?
The lines set out by Cervas will create the political boundaries for New Yorkers’ next set of elected officials to be chosen by voters in an August 23 primary, a date chosen by the Court of Appeals in its recent redistricting ruling.
The panel of judges said then that the Democratic-controlled legislature had drawn the congressional maps “with impermissible partisan purpose,” Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote.
As of this week, New Yorkers will have a separate primary on June 28 to choose candidates for all offices other than congressional and state Senate seats, including governor and state Assembly members. Good-government groups have urged lawmakers to combine both primaries into the August 23 date, but they have not yet taken that action. Gov. Kathy Hochul said in early May that changing the June date would be confusing to voters.
Districts for the Assembly, also drawn by the state legislators in Albany, have held up through multiple court challenges and remain in effect. Just last week, Steuben County Supreme Court Judge Patrick McAllister rejected a last-minute lawsuit challenging them.
New York’s once-a-decade redistricting process has been fraught from the start, when the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission began its work to draw new political boundaries based on new population figures from the 2020 Census.
In its first drafts, the IRC split down partisan lines, issuing two sets of dueling maps. The group ultimately failed to produce a final set of maps, earlier in 2022, at which point the legislature took over the process and drew its own political borders.
New York is not alone in producing gerrymandered maps, said Li of the Brennan Center. Many states do it, and only four states — Arizona, California, Colorado and Michigan — have independent commissions with the aim of reducing partisan lean in political map-making, he said.
Overall, however, he said it is more often that GOP-controlled states are able to create gerrymandered maps and have them stick.
“The states where Republicans control the pen, they’re a little bit more like the Wild West when it comes to gerrymandering, and so they’re getting away with a lot more,” he said.
That could have been avoided with the Freedom to Vote Act, which would have banned partisan gerrymandering nationally, as Li has previously written. But, in Congress, “Democrats couldn’t get the job done,” he said.