Less than two months until the Democratic primary elections were scheduled to occur, New York State’s Court of Appeals rejected the recently-drawn legislative maps, deeming them unconstitutional. Unfortunately, for candidates fresh off the heels of the petitioning process, this decision left their eligibility uncertain. Would their district remain intact? Would it be redrawn and force them out of the race?
Statewide redistricting is generally a contentious process, even in a fairly blue state such as New York. A 2014 referendum shifted the map-making mandate away from the state legislature and into the hands of an independent, bipartisan commission.
“The process, laid out in the state Constitution, requires the IRC to send a proposed set of congressional and state legislative district lines to the Legislature for consideration. If lawmakers reject them, the IRC is tasked with sending a second set for consideration. But late last year, the IRC failed to come up with a second set of maps, gridlocking along party lines and finishing its work without sending lawmakers a revised proposal to consider after its first set was rejected. With the constitution silent as to what was supposed to happen next, the Democrat-led Legislature stepped in and drew the lines itself. It ended up being a fatal mistake,” reports Jon Campbell of Gothamist.
“It’s in line with the old adage ‘Legislators pick their voters rather than voters pick their legislators or elected leaders,’” lecturer and political expert Eli Valentin said of this most recent redistricting process. “So I think this is a case where this has happened. Carolyn Maloney, Manhattan-based, though her district goes outside of Manhattan — she’s been challenged by more progressive candidates over the past couple of election cycles. In this redistricting process, lines were changed in a way that’s more favorable to her reelection chances. Some of these areas that’s more progressive-leaning in her district were taken out.”
The New York Times backed up these claims in an article retweeted by Maloney challenger Rana Abdelhamid. “Our Congresswoman has always made it clear what she thinks about Brooklyn & Queens…she doesn’t,” Abdelhamid tweeted in September.
“I think that there were limits to what [the commission] would be able to do from the get-go in two senses,” says Émilia Decaudin, who is running for Democratic State Committee in Assembly District 37. “The first is that the fact that it was bipartisan meant that you needed to have some buy-in from the other party, but we’re not in a climate where that’s very feasible. The other part of it is that there were certain pressures from both parties and the political world as a whole,” citing pressure from Democrats nationwide to increase margins in the House as an example.
Judge Patrick McAllister, who first rejected the State Senate and congressional maps before the case made its way to the Court of Appeals, upheld the State Assembly maps as of yesterday, allowing for the State Assembly primaries to happen as scheduled on June 28. However, Judge McAllister’s decision to initially reject the other maps forced the two other primary elections to be pushed back to August 23. New York City previously picked up two new State Senate districts, including one of which Greenpoint is a part — District 17.
It is now unclear as to who will represent our neighborhood in Albany next year, and which other areas they will represent. The proposed State Senate District 17 consists mostly of western Queens, with the addition of our tiny pocket of Brooklyn. Notably, it’s a fairly diverse district. “The reason why it exists is that there were enough population changes in this part of Queens to warrant a new district, along with the fact that there were population decreases in the rest of the state,” said Decaudin. “I’m not sure if it was drawn to favor anyone in particular, in that angle, it feels like they kind of threw it out into the void,” said Decaudin on if the map was drawn to benefit certain candidates.
These areas of Queens were already diverse, further strengthened by population growth. “Around 38 percent of the district’s residents identify as Hispanic, around 31 percent are white, around 19 percent are Asian and around 4 percent are Black, according to 2020 Census numbers.” Queens Daily Eagle reports.
How those demographics could translate into votes is less clear. “The idea was to create another Senate district that is more favorable to people of color, and specifically, Latinos,” said Valentin. “In terms of total population, there has been an increase of about 6% in the Latino population. The white non-Hispanic population decreased by 4%. So it’s a very diverse district, there’s a high number of Asian voters and residents. I’m not convinced about the idea that the district is favorable to or will lead to an automatic Latino representative, because when we factor in voting participation, we see that that’s not quite the case here.”
That diversity could make it harder for a candidate to effectively capture a range of voters. While Greenpoint has shifted further left in recent years, ousting incumbents and building a solid base of support for the Democratic Socialists of America, that groundswell might not translate as much in other, more moderate areas.
“There are issues that are important to folks in the eastern part of the district that may not be as important to those in the western part of the district,” Valentin continued. “So I think that it makes the job of getting elected in this type of district much more complicated for a candidate, in terms of consistent messaging, identifying issues that might be pertinent to all involved. It’s a fascinating dynamic.”
Currently, four candidates have thrown their names into the hat — Elizabeth Crowley, Kristen Gonzalez, Françoise Olivas, and Japneet Singh. Crowley and Gonzalez are largely seen as the two frontrunners. Both Valentin and Decaudin cited Crowley’s name recognition and her previous close election outcomes as signs favorable to her campaign. Most recently, the former City Council Member mounted a campaign for Queens borough president. Crowley, whose cousin Joe Crowley was famously ousted from office by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is more moderate than Gonzalez, a young tech-worker formally endorsed by the DSA.
“She has a lot of support from people and groups that have been really involved on the ground, so I think she’ll have a solid ground operation,” said Valentin of Gonzalez. “I think she’ll be able to raise the money, and she may win. I just don’t see the possibility of her winning being a result of other increases in the Latino population in the district.”
Preliminary maps should be released by May 20, and Greenpointers will know more then. Stay tuned.