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Divided Redistricting Commission Stalemates, Sends Dueling Lines to Legislature

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The New York State Capitol Building in Albany.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

New York’s crucial once-in-a-decade redrawing of congressional and state legislative boundaries broke down along party lines as an “independent” redistricting commission for the second time proposed two competing sets of maps.

The impasse paves the way for lawmakers in Albany to take over the process, with no pretense of bipartisanship.

The 10-member commission –– created via a constitutional amendment approved by state voters in 2014  –– was meant to wrestle control of the map-making out of the hands of politicians after civic groups and Democrats expressed dismay over what they viewed as Republican gerrymandering following the 2010 census.  

The group, made up of five Democrats and five Republicans, already had failed to coalesce around one set of maps in September.

At a public meeting on Monday, both sets of appointees complained that the other side wouldn’t compromise enough to make consensus maps possible. 

A side-by-side look at the competing maps from the redistricting commission.

Vice Chair Jack Martins, a Republican appointee, charged that Democrats stopped meeting with the GOP commissioners after Dec. 22. 

Chair David Imamura, a Democratic appointee, said that Republicans never sent back counter proposals when his side asked for changes to their maps. 

“It disturbs me to no end to see it end on this particular note,” said Elaine Frazier, a Democratic appointee to the commission. “We all worked very hard and I think we came so very close to agreeing with each other — we were surprised and in our surprise we pulled back from a consensus vote.”

Albany Waiting in Wings

The pressure is now on in the Democratic Party-controlled Albany legislature, which will take over the process in a high-stakes year for congressional elections.

New York is one of the few states nationally where Democrats have the power to draw district lines for Congress, as the party seeks to maintain or grow its slim four-seat majority in the House of Representatives.

A spokesperson for the State Senate Democrats told THE CITY that lawmakers would approve new lines by the mid-January deadline. 

The Legislature must now vote to accept or reject one of the two proposals from the commission. If Albany rejects both, the commission has another opportunity to create new lines. If the second proposal gets voted down, then lawmakers will take over the map-making process. 

“We’re in receipt of the maps and at this point we’re in the process of reviewing them and we do understand the need to act quickly,” said State Senate Majority spokesperson Mike Murphy.

Activists Annoyed

Redistricting activists who spoke to THE CITY said they were deeply frustrated that the commission didn’t create one single proposal, saying that both sets of maps failed to unite so-called communities of interest as required under the federal Voting Rights Act. 

“Neither Plan A nor B are satisfactory because the commission was supposed to come up with a set of maps, not dueling maps,” said Lurie Daniel-Favors, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. “It is extremely difficult for the public to participate in a process when the public is not clear where the commission itself stands.”

A collection of 18 Asian-American community groups, known as APA VOICE Redistricting Task Force, held a press conference shortly after the commission released the new maps, slamming the commissioners for failing to unify. They urged the state Legislature to reject both maps.

The state’s Independent Redistricting Commission during a meeting on Sept. 15, 2021.

Screengrab/NYS Independent Redistricting Commission/YouTube

Asian-American activists were frustrated that neither suite of maps linked Sunset Park and Bensonhurst to create Brooklyn’s first majority-Asian State Senate district, reflecting a decade of strong population growth among Asian-American New Yorkers. They also slammed the commission for ignoring opportunities to create a majority Asian Assembly district in Queens’ Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park neighborhoods as well as in Elmhurst and Woodside. 

The group and others — including Latino Justice and the Center for Law and Social Justice — are encouraging the New York State Legislative Task Force (LATFOR), which is responsible for drafting lines if the legislature rejects the commission’s proposals, to instead enact “unity maps” that a coalition of advocacy groups worked on to group Black, Latino and Asian community enclaves together. 

Several groups behind the unity maps sent a letter to LATFOR members and Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday urging them to hold public hearings if the state Legislature takes over the process. 

“Impacted communities should have an opportunity to comment after LATFOR draws them given the enormous importance their maps will have for the political, economic, and social empowerment for the next 10 years,” said Elizabeth OuYang, the group’s coordinator. 

Candidates ‘Couldn’t Care Less’?

Several congressional candidates with contentious primary elections didn’t respond to requests for comment from THE CITY, including Rep. Carolyn Maloney and her primary challenger Rana Abdelhamid, a Google employee and community organizer. 

Both the Democratic and GOP maps cut out Brooklyn’s Greenpoint and Williamsburg neighborhoods from New York’s 12th congressional district, where Maloney reportedly wanted fewer progressive voters, while adding to the Manhattan and Queens side of the district. 

In the city’s lone swing district, currently covering Staten Island and nearby Brooklyn neighborhoods incumbent Rep. Nicole Malliotakis and former congressman Max Rose, who is gearing up to run for his lost seat, both said that they weren’t worried where the new congressional lines would be drawn. 

In the Democratic maps, known as Plan A, the district’s Brooklyn side keeps Bay Ridge and stretches the district into Sunset Park. Plan B, the GOP map, brings the district into Bay Ridge before jutting out westward into more Republican-friendly areas like Dyker Heights and Midwood.

“Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis works hard, fights for her constituents and her office provides exceptional constituent service,” said Rob Ryan, Malliotakis’ campaign spokesperson.” Regardless of which map becomes final, she’ll win again in 2022.”

Rose also said he was unbothered by the process.

“I am running for Congress because if we’re going to tame inflation, defeat the pandemic, and get our lives back then we need elected officials who will do the right thing, no matter the cost,” Rose said in a statement. That’s what the American people want and deserve irrespective of political parties, so I couldn’t care less about what the final lines are.” 

The commissioners also submitted lines for the state Senate and Assembly districts, but Democratic control in Albany is unlikely to be affected by redistricting given that Democrats enjoy a supermajority in both chambers.

A side-by-side look at the competing maps from the redistricting commission.

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