Democrats in New York have redrawn a key congressional district to give former congressman Max Rose a big advantage in his bid to reclaim the seat from Republican incumbent Rep. Nicole Malliotakis – packing it with more liberal precincts in Brooklyn to counter conservative Staten Island, political observers said Monday.
Malliotakis and fellow Republicans charge the fix is in after a “bipartisan” panel all but endured to be at loggerheads failed to come up with a compromise – leaving the redrawing of districts in the hands of the majority Democrats.
The 11th District currently includes all of Staten Island along with like-minded neighborhoods in southern Brooklyn just on the other side of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, including Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Bath Beach.
But in what sources say was a clearly partisan gerrymander to boost a Democrat’s chances of winning the 11th and several other congressional seats, the proposed district snakes from the island to Bay Ridge and then to the northwest to take in the heavily Democratic neighborhoods of Sunset Park , Gowanus and Park Slope – ending at the border of Smith Street, State Street and Flatbush Avenue.
The move has left the Malliotakis camp crying foul.
“This is a blatant attempt by the Democratic leadership in Albany to steal this seat, even after New Yorkers voted twice by ballot referendum for non-partisan maps,” said Malliotakis campaign spokesman Rob Ryan.
“These are the same cynical politicians that gave us the disastrous bail reform, released criminals from prison, and raised our taxes. They know Congresswoman Malliotakis is popular and they can not beat her on the merits or public policy, so they are changing the boundaries to tilt the scale. ”
Former President Donald Trump defeated Democrat Joe Biden 55.3 percent to 44.7 percent in the 2020 presidential election in the 11th CD – a solid 10.6 percent point victory.
Malliotakis defeated Rose by about 6 percentage points.
If the redrawn district were in place in 2020, Biden would have taken about 55 percent of the vote and Trump 45 percent – a reversal at the top of the ticket that would have aided Rose.
Independent experts and even Democrats agree that their the lines were drawn for maximum partisan advantage.
‘It’s clear that the increase in Democratic voters in the Brooklyn side of the 11th CD is amazing. Cutting the Republican vote in half in Brooklyn is equally amazing, ”said Steve Romalewski, director of mapping services at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center who has analyzed the new districts.
Romalewski noted that voters approved a 2014 ballot measure calling for a more “independent” redistricting process, but that plan was thrown out the window because of partisan squabbling this year.
“I do not think you could find anyone who spoke up at a public hearing saying that Park Slope should be in the same district as Staten Island,” he said.
Longtime Staten Island Democratic activist Allen Cappelli admitted the redrawn district is a Democratic gerrymander but insists it is “no less a gerrymander than what Republicans in charge of redistricting do in states such as Texas.”
“The party in charge draws the lines to their advantage,” Cappelli said.
In New York, the Democrats who control the state Senate and Assembly draw the congressional maps every 10 years following the census count.
State Sen. Diane Savino agreed that the newly carved district is a potential gift and pick-up for Democrats.
“There are more Democratic-leaning voters on the Brooklyn side of the district. These are high turnout voters. That would benefit a Democratic candidate for Congress, ”said Savino, a Democrat whose own district includes parts of northern Staten Island and southern Brooklyn.
She noted that Staten Island still makes up about two-thirds of the voters in the district and that the 11th CD is “still a very competitive seat.”
“It’s not a walk in the park but it’s better turf for any Democrat than it was before,” Savino added.
Even some Democrats complained the redrawn congressional districts are too unwieldy
Long Island Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi is running for governor instead of seeking re-election to the 3rd Congressional district, which has expanded from three to five counties.
The 3rd CD currently cuts across the north shore of Long Island in Nassau and Suffolk counties and takes in parts of northeastern Queens.
The redrawn 3rd CD runs from Suffolk and Nassau through Queens to a small piece of the Bronx and then into Westchester County.
“I understand the goal the legislature is trying to achieve with this map, however I believe it could have been accomplished and served the interests of the residents better by having a more compact 3rd district that’s not spread out over parts of 5 counties,” Suozzi said.
A Republican mapping expert accused Democrats in the state Legislature of engaging in illegal redistricting for partisan gain.
“The notion that Staten Island is connected to Park Slope, or Glencove is connected to Mamaroneck – these things are crazy and anyone who looks at this map will realize this is an egregious map,” said former GOP Hudson Valley Rep. John Faso.
“It’s pretty clear the proposal they’ve made is unconstitutional. It’s a very clear partisan gerrymander. The constitution says these proposals would be a prime example of partisan gerrymander – it divides communities and it creates districts that are geographically disparate unnecessarily, ”he said.
Faso continued, “You’re connecting Nassau County with Westchester – does the congressman get a rowboat or a yacht to transcend the Long Island Sound?”
Meanwhile, state Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy said the party will likely file a lawsuit to block the redistricting plan that could cut New York’s Republican representation in the House in half, from eight members to four.
But one redistricting expert said Malliotakis and the New York Republican Party are screwed because state and federal courts have historically refused to intervene or overrule partisan-driven redistricting maps.
“It would be very difficult to challenge the congressional plan in court. The state courts prefer to leave redistricting to the legislature. No state court has rejected a plan enacted by the state legislature in over 50 years, ”said Jeffrey Wice, a professor with NYU’s Census and Redistricting Institute.
“There’s little chance of any court rejecting the new lines for this year’s elections.”
Likewise Wice said federal courts will not hear gerrymandering cases following a 2019 US Supreme Court decision that concluded that partisan challenges do not belong in federal courts.
The redistricting plan also eliminates the 22nd congressional of upstate GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney because of population loss following the census count. She announced Monday that she will run for re-election in another district.