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Albany’s Congressional Maps Protect Democrats, Put NYC’s Lone GOP House Seat at Risk

A coalition of community groups protested new proposed redistricted congressional maps near City Hall, Jan. 31, 2022. Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Logo for THE CITYThis article was originally published by The CITY on Jan. 31
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Democrats in the New York State Legislature released new congressional lines that protect some of the city’s sitting representatives from primary challenges and puts its lone-Republican congressmember’s hold on her district in jeopardy.

Incumbent Democrats, like Manhattan Reps. Adriano Espaillat and Carolyn Maloney, have seemingly gotten their wish as to how they’d like their districts to be shaped, while Rep. Nicole Malliotakis’ (R-S.I./Brooklyn) territory was made more blue.

The partisan maps come after the state’s “independent” redistricting commission reached a stalemate last week between GOP and Democratic appointees, who failed to send a unified set of maps to the state Legislature by a statutory deadline.

The Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), controlled by Democrats in Albany, weakened several GOP-held congressional districts in the state, including Malliotakis’ seat, which currently includes all of Staten Island and a swath of southern Brooklyn.

Under the new maps released Sunday evening, the district will also include heavily Democratic neighborhoods like Sunset Park and Park Slope.

The lines will go before members of the Democratic Party-dominated Senate and Assembly this week for approval, as will lines still to come for their own district boundaries expected to be released late Monday evening. Their passage is almost assured.

The head of the New York Republican Party is exploring options for a possible lawsuit and other GOP leaders who spoke to THE CITY decried the proposed new lines as obvious gerrymandering.

“This is a blatant attempt by the Democrat leadership in Albany to steal this seat, even after New Yorkers voted twice by ballot referendum for non-partisan maps,”  said Rob Ryan, a spokesperson for Malliotakis’ campaign. “They know Congresswoman Malliotakis is popular and they can’t beat her on the merits or public policy, so they are changing the boundaries to tilt the scale.”

Max Rose, who lost the seat to Malliotakis in 2020 and is set on winning it back this year, said he won’t change his moderate messaging despite an expected influx of liberal voters into the district.

“Whatever the lines end up being doesn’t matter to me. I’m in this race because House Republicans like Nicole Malliotakis would rather tear America apart than help tame inflation, defeat the pandemic, and protect our democracy,” said Rose in a statement.

Nicole Malliotakis campaigns for Congress on Staten Island on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020. Clifford Michel/THE CITY

Rose will have to face fellow Army vet Brittany Ramos DeBarros, a Democratic Socialist, in a June primary race first.

Ramos DeBarros said she’s even more confident that she’ll win the Democratic primary and noted that the newly added neighborhoods recently voted for “insurgent candidates” that won crowded primaries and seats on the City Council in 2021, like Shahana Hanif and Alexa Aviles.

“For us I think that with the new maps we see additional communities that just elected bold, working class women of color ready to fight for the people very much like me,” Ramos DeBarros told THE CITY. “And we’re even more confident in our ability to deliver a big win for the people and to make real change for the long run that our communities really need here.”

Meanwhile, Richmond County GOP organizers point to the gulf between their borough of Staten Island and the new Brooklyn neighborhoods, wider than the Verrazzano Narrows.

Said Peter Guinta, a member of the Staten Island Republican Party’s executive committee:

“There’s a difference in the needs of Park Slope and Staten Island.”

Compact and Contiguous

Political observers also have their eyes on the uptown congressional district held for the last five years by Espaillat. It currently includes all of Washington Heights and Inwood, and parts of Harlem in Manhattan, and neighborhoods like Norwood, Jerome Park and Fordham in The Bronx.

Espaillat nabbed just 59% of the vote in the 2020 primary against James Felton Keith III, a Black entrepreneur who dropped out months before the primary.

The new lines for the district did not excise Harlem, but do give Espaillat a larger chunk of Kingsbridge, Fordham, Tremont and Morris Heights in The Bronx, where he’s been able to deliver votes for candidates in those Dominican-heavy neighborhoods.

“Those lines reflect almost like 100% of what I represent now, and the growth that I needed to have, because I lost population, was included in adjacent districts to where I represent right now,” Espaillat said in a phone interview on Monday. “So I’m happy with this — it’s compact, and it’s contiguous, and I think it represents communities of common interests.”

The Harlem-based chair of the Manhattan Democratic Party agreed the lines are good news for Espaillat.

“Knowing Mr. Espaillat the way I know him, the more Dominicans you can get into the district, the better for him,” said Keith Wright, who faced off against Espaillat in 2016 when the two battled for the congressional seat vacated by Charlie Rangel, who retired that year.

Eddie Cuesta, executive director of voter engagement group Dominicanos USA who advocated for a Dominican-majority congressional district, said he was pleased with the new map.

Compared with current district boundaries, “This map better reflects the community,” Cuesta said on Monday. “I would have preferred to see more representation, from University or to maybe see the areas along the Grand Concourse go all the way down to 170th where we’ve also seen a growth of the Dominican community.”

Incumbent Fortified

The maps released by LATFOR also cut out parts of Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Astoria in Queens — two young, progressive bastions — from Maloney’s 12th congressional district, , while expanding the district’s reach further into Manhattan. Maloney reportedly wanted fewer progressive voters.

Her primary challenger Rana Abdelhamid, a Google employee and community organizer, said her campaign was expecting a newly redrawn district and is unfazed by the change.

“We are going to keep being the progressive fighter that working families across the district need. We have gained a culturally rich and iconic part of New York City that contains communities and voters that are looking for a change,” Abdelhamid said in a statement.

Maloney didn’t respond to a request for comment.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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