Redistricting could turn most of Long Island blue

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat, left, and Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican, are each vacating their congressional seats to run for New York State governor. // Officials portraits of the congressmen

By Leah Chiappino

Long Island’s congressional districts could give Democrats an advantage going into the 2022 midterm elections, unless a court challenge stands.

New Yorkers celebrate Joe Biden’s victory in 2020. Two years later, Long Island could go blue in the congressional races after redistricting. // Photo by Jack Prommel/Unsplash

The state’s redistricting process, which determines congressional district borders and occurs once every 10 years, recently eliminated one congressional district owing to a decline in population and created three Democratic-leaning seats.

In New York, redistricting maps originally were to be drawn by the Independent Democratic Conference, a bipartisan group of representatives from highly competitive districts who, in theory, would come together to form new districts that did not unduly favor either party.

Republicans and Democrats submitted plans, but an agreement could not be reached. Thus, the process reverted back to the State Legislature, where Democrats control both houses, along with the governorship.

On Thursday, a divided five-judge panel ruled that the new maps drawn by Democrats “discourage competition” to favor their party, according to a New York Times story. Gov. Kathy Hochul and top leaders in the Legislature said they would appeal.

This all comes as elections begin to heat up ahead of the June primary, with Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican from Shirley, and Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat from Glen Cove, vacating their seats in the 1st and 3rd congressional districts, respectively, to run for New York governor.

According to a City University of New York analysis, Zeldin’s district, which previously favored Trump by 5 points, now would give Biden an 11-point advantage under the currently redrawn maps. The 2nd District, which is held by Republican Rep. Andrew Garbarino and supported Trump 52 to 48 percent in 2020, would increase support for the former president by 5 points. The 3rd District, which had 55 percent Biden voters, slightly increased its preference for the president.

Long Island’s previous congressional district map.
Long Island’s newly proposed congressional districts, which under challenge in court. // Maps courtesy New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment

The 4th District, which encompasses much of central and southern Nassau County, barely changed its lines. Meanwhile, the 1st District, which previously consisted of northeastern Suffolk County from Smithtown to the Hamptons and the North Fork, now extends to Oyster Bay in Nassau County. Former Republican strongholds in central Long Island, which were previously part of the 1st District, have been shifted to 2nd District, and the 3rd District, which formerly stretched from Smithtown in Suffolk to Queens, now extends from Smithtown to parts of Westchester and the Bronx.

Primary candidates react

Democrat Melanie D’Arrigo, a healthcare advocate, community organizer and mother of three running for the 3rd District, said there are logistical challenges to extending a district as far as hers was.

“This is pretty unconventional,” she said. “Initially, I went right to what will constituent services look like? I think any responsible and effective representative really is someone who [is] in the community and shows up for the community events and tries to really learn the issues, so there’s, of course, some inherent challenges with the new district lines.”

George Santos, a Republican running in the same district, said he is waiting for lawsuits challenging the maps to be settled before he heavily invests in campaigning in the Bronx and Westchester.

“This is cheating at its highest level,” he said. Democrats “knew that there’s no way to draw only one Republican seat on Long Island unless they pull something like this off and create a voter dump, and that’s what they did. They created a voter dump in the 2nd Congressional District.”

A dump concentrates votes in a particular area.

Other Democratic candidates, such as Suffolk Legislators Kara Hahn and Bridget Fleming, running in the 1st District, said Democrats did nothing wrong.

“Legislator Fleming is optimistic that the new maps will bring about equitable representation across our region, providing a voice to those who have been historically marginalized,” her office said in a statement.

Reema Rasool, a Democrat running in the 3rd District, is looking to move on from the redistricting shakeup. “I do think it creates a unique opportunity,” she said. “I’m someone that always looks for solutions. I’m not a complainer.”

Capt. Robert Cornnicelli, a Republican who served in the U.S. Navy and is now running in the 2nd District, also appeared to take the new maps in stride, saying, “The redistricting is interesting. I always knew that running as a Republican in New York was going to be a fight, but at the end of the day, however the party numbers play out, we’re confident our message will resonate with our constituents.“

Par for the course?

Republicans have filed the lawsuit against the new redistricting maps and held a multi-million-dollar fundraising campaign to stop the redrawing, alleging it violates the New York State Constitution.

However, according to Hofstra University Political Science Professor Craig Burnett, the redrawing is par for the course. “Unsurprisingly, to me anyway, [Democrats] did exactly what somebody who is trying to win the political game would do, which is create an infrastructure that is going to produce outcomes that are friendly to you,” he said. “That’s really what happened here. It’s nothing controversial. . . Both parties do this.”

Upon release of the maps, Dave Wasserman, the editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report, called out Democrats for “gerrymandering” on Twitter.

The U.S. Constitution requires that every 10 years, districts must be redrawn to account for population changes and ensure that all 435 congressional districts around the country have relatively the same number of constituents.