By MARINA VILLENEUVE
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s legislature approved new congressional district maps Wednesday that will expand Democrats’ power for years to come in a state where the party already holds a dominating advantage.
The Senate voted 43-20 on party lines Wednesday to pass the congressional maps. The bill largely passed on party lines in the Assembly with a 103-45 vote.
The redrawn maps would ensure that Democrats make up a strong majority of registered voters in 22 of the 26 congressional districts the state will have in 2023.
Republicans, who now hold eight of New York’s 27 seats in Congress, say they’re considering fighting the maps in court, calling them an illegal attempt at a type of gerrymandering barred under the state’s constitution.
The Legislature faces pressure to quickly pass maps, with the state’s election primaries just months away in June.
If they survive any court challenges, the maps will mean reelection trouble for several Republican House members.
In New York City, U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, a Staten Island Republican, would face running in a district stretched to include some of Brooklyn’s most liberal neighborhoods.
Much of the territory now represented by Republican gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin would shift to a more Democrat-friendly district spanning from the Hamptons to suburbs closer to New York City.
And the central New York district narrowly won by U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney, a Republican, will be spread among several districts. She’ll now live in a Democratic-friendly district sweeping from the Hudson Valley, up to Albany and west to Binghamton and Utica. She’s vowed to run against incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado.
Democratic leaders have defended the maps as addressing the reality of New York’s population shifts over the past decade: Democrat-dominated New York City gained 629,000 people in the 2020 Census, while rural upstate areas home to many Republicans saw populations shrink and shift to cities. New York lost its 27th congressional district because of lagging population growth.
“We’ve come up with fair maps that the state can be proud of,” Deputy Senate Majority Leader Mike Gianaris, a Democrat of Queens, said.
Voters in 2014 set up a politically appointed commission to agree on new political maps.
But the redistricting commission — as expected — failed to do so in January because its Republican and Democratic members couldn’t come to consensus.
That meant the Legislature’s Democratic leadership could draw up its own maps — and use them to bludgeon Republican foes.
Sen. Thomas O’Mara, a Republican representing Southern Tier and Finger Lakes counties, said Democrats “egregiously” redrew a Long Island district now represented by U.S. Rep. and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Suozzi.
That district will now span five counties from Suffolk to Westchester by traversing narrow segments of Queens and the Bronx.
Gianaris argued New Yorkers in the district have similar concerns: “They share common issues, particularly as it relates to environmental concerns around the waterfront.”
Other district boundaries set to grow more convoluted include Democratic U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler’s meandering Upper West Side and Brooklyn district, which would grow more S-shaped so more Democratic voters could be pushed into Malliotakis’ district.
Democrats said they did the best job they could given time constraints, but acknowledged flaws in New York’s redistricting process.
“When you set up a commission with an equal number from both parties you’ll get deadlock,” Gianaris said. “We’re just dealing with the process that you handed us when we succeeded you in taking over the majority.”
Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes, a Democrat of Brooklyn, was one of few Democrats who voted against passing the maps, saying her “diverse, vibrant working class” community put her in position to represent them.
In a statement, she said, “It does not honor the decades of work from community activists to ensure that working-class, disenfranchised racially marginalized and immigrant communities like ours have representation in our collective struggle.”
She said the new maps break up Chinatown communities of Lower Manhattan and Sunset Park, as well as surrounding Latino communities.
Meanwhile, New York’s maps have been cited as examples of unfair gerrymandering from non-partisan groups including state chapters of the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.
Brennan Center for Justice redistricting expert Michael Li called New York’s congressional maps a textbook example of an “aggressive gerrymander” biased toward Democrats.
“Yes it’s true there were population losses upstate,” Li said. “But they also radically redrew a lot of the districts well beyond what they needed to do to account for population losses.”
Li said New York’s gerrymandering differs from Republican efforts in other states to create “ultra-safe” seats.
“New York’s spreads Democratic voters a lot in order to take out Republican incumbents,” Li said.
Gianaris said Li was “mistaken” when asked about the Brennan Center’s analysis on the Senate floor Wednesday.
It’s unclear whether state courts would block New York from using the map in rapidly approaching 2022 elections.
New York voters amended the state’s constitution in 2014 to ban partisan gerrymandering.
“It’s never been interpreted by New York courts,” Li said. “I think people will be watching to see how they handle it.”
Li pointed to federal courts’ long-standing deference to legislatively enacted maps, and Congress’ failure to pass a voting rights bill that could have blocked New York’s maps from taking effect.
Li said New York should learn from states like California, whose independent redistricting commissions features conflict of interest rules and randomly selection of some commissioners.
Gov. Kathy Hochul will have 10 days to sign or veto the maps once they land on her desk. The Democrat hasn’t said whether she’ll sign them.