Tuesday, March 6, 2012

New congressional map shakes up New York delegation

From: The Hill's Ballot Box

A new congressional map for New York proposed by a federal judge guts the district of one House member and puts the squeeze on two others, setting up a potential showdown between the court and the gridlocked state legislature.

An initial analysis of the map released Tuesday shows that Rep. Bob Turner’s (R-N.Y.) district has been dismantled, leading to a reshuffling of the lines on Long Island and pushing other area congressmen closer to Queens. In upstate New York, Reps. Kathy Hochul (D) and Charles Gibson (R) still have districts to run in, but will find themselves in more difficult political territory.

New York lost two congressional districts after the 2010 Census due to slow population growth, and the second district to be eliminated belongs to Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), whose decision to retire made his seat the low-hanging fruit.

State lawmakers are supposed to control the map-redrawing process in New York, but have been deadlocked for months. With the state’s June 26 primary elections rapidly approaching, a panel of three federal judges stepped in last week and asked the Democrat-controlled state Assembly and GOP-controlled state Senate to submit their proposals.

The panel also appointed a special master to draw her own map in case lawmakers continued to deadlock, but that map wasn’t due until Monday. The special master caught lawmakers off guard by releasing her map almost a week early, ramping up pressure on lawmakers to strike a deal before the federal panel puts its own map in place.

If the court-drawn map wins out, the biggest loss would be suffered by Turner, who would be left without an obvious district where he could run. Turner called the proposal released Tuesday “just another step in the process” and cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

“I am prepared to run in whatever district I reside in once the final lines are adopted,” Turner, who holds ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner's (D-N.Y.) seat, said in a statement to The Hill.

Other Long Island-area members including Steve Israel (D), Gary Ackerman (D), Carolyn McCarthy (D) and Peter King (R) also saw their territory heavily rejiggered, but all have options to have a district to themselves. King will have to choose either to run in a district that has no incumbent but appears less favorable for Republicans, or to challenge McCarthy to the west.

“I’ll be leaning toward running in the [open district],” King told The Hill. “She’s a friend, she’s an incumbent, and obviously you never want to run against a friend unless you have to.”

Ackerman’s district currently straddles Queens and Long Island’s Nassau County, but Ackerman will be pushed into a new all-Queens district. That sets him up for a primary challenge from state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D), who also plans to run for that seat.

The political discussion over New York’s redistricting has centered on whether incumbency should be a factor when the state redraws its lines once every decade. But in upstate New York, the court’s map strived to undo the heavy gerrymandering that has long characterized the state’s congressional map, making major efforts to avoid splitting up cities.

“The major news here is Hochul is hurt quite a bit by this plan, and Chris Gibson is also hurt quite a bit,” said David Wasserman, the House races editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Gibson, a freshman lawmaker, saw new Democratic territory added to the district where he would likely run, while Hochul’s home appears to now be in neighboring Rep. Brian Higgins’s (D-N.Y.) district. House members in New York don’t have to live in the district they represent, but the district encompassing the bulk of Hochul’s old district would be a heavy haul for a Democrat. She won a May 2011 special election for ex-Rep. Chris Lee's (R-N.Y.) old seat.

Because every incumbent has a district where they can run by themselves — except Turner, who knew when he ran in a September special election that the seat was on the chopping block — state lawmakers may see less of an incentive to wrest back control of the process.

Another incentive is that a map drawn by a federal court would appear to be immune from Voting Rights Act lawsuits and the requirement that the Justice Department pre-clear the state’s maps.

A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court related to Texas’s redistricting saga made clear that the courts prefer state lawmakers get the first bite at picking their own maps. If New York legislators decide they don’t want the court-drawn map to stand, they’ll have to act fast.

“The dust hasn't settled. The state legislature could hammer out a deal, go back to the courts,” said Arnold Linhardt, a Democratic consultant closely tracking the redistricting fallout. “If something doesn’t break in Albany within the next 48 hours, I think these lines could stand.”

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