Redistricting in the Empire State

Introduction

After a long wait, one of the nation’s most consequential gerrymanders debuted yesterday. The Empire State kept the political world waiting eagerly for months, with most serious analysts wondering just how aggressive the legislature would draw the lines for the upcoming decade. Along with Illinois, New York is the other important component of the Democratic phalanx in the national redistricting battle.

The prerelease debate revolved around whether the adopted map would yield a 22-4 or 23-3 Democratic advantage. Players like Marc Elias, Governor Kathy Hochul, and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney supported the latter configuration. The state legislature was rumored to favor the former rendition, which it considered altogether less earth-shattering and more politically stable. 

In true New York fashion, the map was not released in cartographical form after adoption, leaving the keenest of DRA users with the tedious task of drawing out the seat boundaries by hand. Thanks to their generous efforts, we now have the data necessary to do a write-up in conjunction with our new race ratings.

    So what direction did the legislature ultimately go in? By all indications, the whims of Marc Elias and Sean Patrick Maloney were ignored. As it stands, the new map produces four Safe Republican districts – three upstate and one on Long Island. Republicans Nicole Malliotakis and Claudia Tenney are easily the biggest political losers on the map after being redrawn into Biden-won seats. Also vulnerable are the seats of Congressmen John Katko and Lee Zeldin, both of whom are retiring.

The novel draw is by no means completely wave proof (upsets happen in wonky environments) but it is certainly more stable at 22-4 than any proposed 23-3 map would have been. That reality probably makes New York’s new map the most efficient Democratic gerrymander of the cycle. All told, Empire State Democrats decided to go for efficiency instead of aggressiveness without spreading themselves too thin. That strategy could give the national party a handful of bright spots in a midterm cycle that is otherwise shaping up dismally.

Let’s take a brief look at each of the competitive seats (Tossup to Likely). This analysis will focus on the territorial changes districts experienced in the redrawing process, all of which have had some effect on partisanships. Besides general descriptions of the new seats, some discussion of candidates and important voting bases is also merited to justify Split Ticket’s ratings. After looking at the districts on the board, we’ll take a brief look at some of the important developments in the safe seats as well.

Special thanks to my good friend and co-contributor Armin Thomas for his consistent advice.

NY-01 (Leans Democratic – flip)

The 1st district is held by retiring Republican Lee Zeldin. Redistricting exchanged segments of Republican Smithtown and Brookhaven for heavily-Democratic communities in Islip and Babylon, shifting the 1st from Trump +4 to Biden +11.

County Legislators Kara Hahn and Bridget Fleming are the top Democrats in the race so far. Fleming ran for the Democratic nomination in 2020, finishing 3rd. Assemblyman Phil Ramos, from Bayshore, would be another formidable contender. Declared Republicans include Robert Cornicelli (Oyster Bay) and Anthony Figliola (Brookhaven).

Republicans have a down ballot foothold on Long Island, but it is unclear how much ticket splitting will benefit them in the new district. Co-contributor Armin Thomas believes that general inelasticity, particularly among minority voters in Islip, will make this seat difficult for Republicans to win. It therefore seems prescient to consider Democrats early favorites districtwide. Leans Democratic (flip)

NY-03 (Likely Democratic)

The 3rd district is held by retiring Democrat Tom Suozzi. Redistricting strengthened the open seat from Biden +10 to Biden +14, a result of the addition of cobalt blue Westchester County communities like New Rochelle and Port Chester. The Suffolk portion now accounts for just 29% of the seat’s population – a 5% drop.

New portions of Bronx and Westchester give state Senator Alessandra Biaggi an avenue to victory if she decides to run. Long Island-based candidates include Supervisor Jonathan Kaiman, County Legislator Joshua Lafazon, and progressive Melanie D’Arrigo. Jackie Gordon is reportedly also considering switching districts. On the Republican side, 2020 nominee George Santos is running again. 

Redistricting has made the 3rd significantly more hostile to Republicans, even in a good national environment. This is currently the bluest Biden-won seat that Split Ticket has on the board in New York, so the GOP is probably going to devote more resources to the 1st and 11th. For now this is the Democrats’ campaign to lose. Likely Democratic

NY-04 (Likely Democratic)

The 4th district is held by Democrat Kathleen Rice. It experienced practically no change in redistricting, and remains Hempstead-centered. At Biden +12, the new seat’s partisanship is nearly identical to the current one’s.

First elected in 2012, Rice only faced serious competition in 2014. Assuming environmental hostility toward Democrats continues into the fall, it seems reasonable that Republicans could contest the 4th. 

To put up a fight, the GOP nominee would need to dominate in Democratic-trending Hempstead shell communities like Garden City, Rockville Centre, and Salisbury. It will also be interesting to see how the Hispanic populations in Freeport and Hempstead vote considering they swung rightward between 2016 and 2020. Likely Democratic

NY-11 (Leans Democratic – flip)

The 11th district is held by Republican Nicole Malliotakis, now the most vulnerable GOP incumbent in the nation. Although 64% of her seat’s population still resides on Staten Island, the addition of Park Slope and Hispanic-heavy Sunset Park have reversed the seat from Trump +10 to Biden +10.

Former Congressman Max Rose is considered the top Democratic recruit for the new seat, though his primary prospects are unclear. As Dave Wasserman at the Cook Political Report has pointed out, there are enough Biden voters on Staten Island to outvote Park Slope in a primary. But that assumes the S.I. vote is unified. Progressive challenger Brittany Ramos DeBarros could fracture the electorate enough to allow a Brooklyn candidate to win. 

Adding to Rose’s potential primary woes, co-contributor Armin Thomas notes that Democratic registration on Staten Island can be deceiving because some registered party members vote Republican. His map-based analysis indicates that 58% of the primary electorate is from Brooklyn.

From an electoral standpoint, Rose is a safe bet for Democrats. Despite losing in 2020, he received roughly 3% more of the vote in Richmond County than did Biden. It is highly unlikely Malliotakis will be able to meet or exceed her 2017 Mayoral margins on Staten Island as some have suggested, but nominating an exceedingly-liberal Democrat without Richmond County connections would effectively cede the most populous part of the seat.

If Malliotakis does end up triumphing over partisan lean, this is the optimal environment for it to happen. But the odds of her winning Staten Island by enough to overwhelm voters in places like Park Slope remain low. The Democratic primary here will critically affect Malliotakis’s reelection chances. Leans Democratic (flip)

NY-17 (Likely Democratic)

The 17th district is held by freshman Democrat Mondaire Jones. Redistricting stretched the seat from its Rockland/Westchester roots north to redder territory in Orange and Sullivan counties. The shifts move the 17th from Biden +20 to Biden +13, placing it at the edge of the House playing field.

Major communities here include White Plains, Tarrytown, Nyack, and Spring Valley. All four of them are Democratic, though Spring Valley is encased by heavily-Republican Orthodox Jews in Kaser and New Square. The Orange and Sullivan portions added to the seat swung Democratic between 2016 and 2020, but remain Republican-leaning and account for just 24% of the 17th’s population.

In a wave year, Republicans could certainly make this district competitive, but the partisan lean and GOP recruitment dearth is enough to label the Democrats favorites to hold the 17th for now. Likely Democratic

NY-18 (Leans Democratic)

The 18th district is held by Sean Patrick Maloney, the DCCC Chairman. Perhaps a result of his consistent advocacy for a 23-3 map, the legislature did not shore him up significantly in redistricting. Swapping Republican parts of Orange County for Democratic Peekskill was the most consequential alteration, bringing the 18th from Biden +5 to Biden +8. 

Almost all of the territory here is Democratic trending like that of the 17th and 19th districts, but it may not be enough to secure the district from a Republican wave against a credible candidate. Assemblyman Colin Schmitt is currently the only declared Republican in the race. Even though most of Dutchess County is now in the 18th, Marc Molinaro seems content continuing his bid against Delgado. Leans Democratic

NY-19 (Leans Democratic)

The 19th district is held by Democrat Antonio Delgado. Redistricting shed redder parts of his district in Dutchess, Sullivan, Schoharie, and Ulster counties in exchange for the Democratic cities of Binghamton, Utica, and Albany (part). Generally speaking, the modifications have made his seat more suburban-oriented and Democratic-trending than it was. Far more shored up than Maloney, Delgado’s new seat lurched from Biden +1.5 to Biden +10.

Delgado also put up a strong performance in his last election, beating underfunded candidate Kyle Van De Water handily while outrunning the top of the ticket. All of these realities bode very well for Democrats on paper, but Republicans have a potential silver bullet in Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro. In his 2018 Gubernatorial run, Molinaro carried the new 19th by 3 points – a potentially-important factor to keep in mind.

Assuming Molinaro does not decide to run in the 18th, where he does not live, the 19th should be thoroughly contested. Many Republicans believe that Delgado could have been defeated and/or held to a thin reelection margin if Molinaro had run in 2020, and it seems like Delgado’s fundraising prowess is not scaring the Dutchess-native away this year. Delgado still starts as a favorite given the district’s partisan lean, trends, and new orientation, but Molinaro will certainly put up a fight in the current environment. Leans Democratic

What else?

  • Retiring Republican John Katko’s 22nd district acquired Tompkins County (Ithaca). Onondaga (Syracuse) and Tompkins counties combined account for roughly 75% of the district’s population. Adding Ithaca, home to Cornell University, makes the already leftward-trending seat Biden +18. Even Katko, the strongest possible GOP nominee for the seat, would be hard-pressed to generate enough split-ticket voting to overcome Ithaca. No potential Republican has viable connections in Tompkins County connections. Safe Democratic (flip)
  • The safe 23rd district is held by retiring Republican Tom Reed. 22nd district Congresswoman Claudia Tenney is running here, but her path to victory will be fraught with difficulty. Tenney lives in Utica, now part of Delgado’s 19th district, and the portion of the new 23rd that she currently represents accounts for just 7% of the total population. 38% of the seat’s population resides in Erie and Chautauqua counties alone, a reality that should dissuade carpetbagging from the east. Even with a Trump endorsement, Tenney would be far from a primary shoo-in. To have a chance, she would need to clear the field of credible challengers. Notably, Steuben County Republican Committee Chair Joe Sempolinski announced that he will drop out following Tenney’s switch. Safe Republican
  • Democrats drew a strange looking 24th district, nominally home to Republican Congressman Chris Jacobs. The seat now winds its way from Niagara County northward to Jefferson County, where the St. Lawrence River flows into Lake Ontario. Safe Republican
  • House GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik received a Trump +19 seat in redistricting, twice as safe as the current 21st. The new vote sink absorbs Republican territory in an effort to shore up other upstate Democratic seats. Safe Republican
  • To help out Delgado in the neighboring 19th district by sacrificing part of Albany, Paul Tonko’s 20th district got slightly redder in redistricting. Despite the change, Tonko should not have any major issues with reelection in his Biden +17 seat. Safe Democratic
  • Carolyn Maloney only narrowly defeated progressive primary challenger Suraj Patel in 2020. The Queens/Brooklyn v. Manhattan divide defined that contest, so it is reasonable to assume Maloney has a better chance of winning her rematch since more of the primary vote in the new seat will be cast across the East River in her Manhattan base. Check out Armin’s post here for more.

My name is Harrison Lavelle and I am a political analyst studying at the College of New Jersey. As a co-founder and partner at Split Ticket, I coordinate our House coverage. I write about a variety of electoral topics and produce political maps. Besides elections, my hobbies include music, history, language, and fitness.

Contact me at @HWLavelleMaps or harrisonwlavelle1@gmail.com

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: