Two gay congressmen from New York — representing nearly one-quarter of the nine LGBTQ elected officials currently serving in Congress — could likely be pitted against each other this year under a draft redistricting map that seeks to undo a pro-Democratic gerrymander.
The proposed congressional maps were drawn by Jonathan Cervas, a court-appointed “Special Master” tasked with drawing “fairer” districts that would benefit Republicans after a Democratic gerrymander that sought to give the party a 22-4 edge in redistricting was declared unconstitutional last month.
Republicans had sued in Steuben County, an upstate rural county, over the Democratic maps, claiming that the lines unfairly disadvantaged their party in elections.
The court ruled in April that Democratic legislative leaders and Gov. Kathy Hochul had violated the State Constitution when they took it upon themselves to draw new congressional and state Senate districts.
Democrats had argued they stepped in and took action after an outside commission shirked its duty and failed to agree on how districts should be drawn following the loss of a seat in reapportionment, as part of the decennial redistricting process. But the court found that Democrats’ actions violated a constitutional amendment, adopted by voters in 2014, to curb political influence in the redistricting process.
The court also found that the Democratic maps violated an explicit state ban prohibiting partisan gerrymandering, and ordered the “Special Master” to draft replacement lines for this year’s midterm elections, with those lines remaining in place until the next round of redistricting in 2032.
The draft that was released on Monday could still be changed, as Cervas is reportedly seeking input from New York voters on possible fixes or amendments that could be made to keep communities of interest together before he releases a finalized version of the map.
Under the Special Master’s map, U.S. Rep. Sean Maloney’s home of Cold Spring, N.Y., has been placed in the proposed 17th Congressional District, along with significant parts of Putnam County and Westchester County. The rest of his current district has been re-labeled the 18th District.
However, the remaining territory in the new 17th District is mostly comprised of U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones’ current territory.
Jones, who resides in White Plains, sees his home moved to the new 16th Congressional District under the proposed map. Unfortunately, U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-Yonkers) also lives in the 16th.
Jones has not yet announced which district he intends to run in, but is likely to find himself engaged in a member-on-member primary either way.
Given his roots in Spring Valley, previous residence in Nyack, and the bulk of territory Jones represented now being in the 17th District, it makes sense for him to run there — likely pitting him against Maloney.
Less than an hour after the release of the proposed Special Master’s map, Maloney announced on Twitter that he would be seeking re-election in the 17th District, although some of his detractors questioned why he wouldn’t run in the nearby 18th District, which currently has no incumbent after U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado was tapped to assume the role Hochul’s lieutenant governor.
“While the process to draw these maps without the legislature is against the will of voters, if the newly-announced maps are finalized, I will run in New York’s 17th Congressional District. NY-17 includes my home and many of the Hudson Valley communities I currently represent,” Maloney tweeted.
While the process to draw these maps without the legislature is against the will of voters, if the newly-announced maps are finalized, I will run in New York's 17th Congressional District. NY-17 includes my home and many of the Hudson Valley communities I currently represent.
— Sean Patrick Maloney (@spmaloney) May 16, 2022
Jones took issue with the decision, telling Politico that Maloney had failed to inform him that they might have to run against each other before posting the tweet.
“Sean Patrick Maloney did not even give me a heads up before he went on Twitter to make that announcement,” Jones told the political insider magazine. “And I think that tells you everything you need to know about Sean Patrick Maloney.”
Jones’ chief of staff then shared a screenshot of a personal text exchange with Maloney’s chief of staff on Twitter.
“My first week on the Hill, SPM’s chief yelled at me for not giving him a head’s up that we were writing a letter against a liquid natural gas plant in a community of color in his district,” tweeted Zach Fisch, Jones’ chief of staff. “‘In this business, you always give a heads up,’ he said. Here’s what he texted me today.”
In the screenshot, Fisch writes, “Thanks for the heads up,” to which Maloney’s chief of staff allegedly replies, “You guys live in 16, right?”
My first week on the Hill, SPM’s chief yelled at me for not giving him a head’s up that we were writing a letter against a liquid natural gas plant in a community of color in his district.
“In this business, you always give a heads up,” he said.
— Zach Fisch (@ZachFisch) May 17, 2022
“The Special Master for New York State is still accepting feedback on the preliminary map he released today,” added Fisch. “Rather than working to unravel this gerrymander, SPM’s team, which *runs DCCC*” — a reference to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which oversees the party’s election efforts — “spent the day calling officials in NY-17 asking for their support for SPM’s own election.”
Supporters of Jones have accused Maloney of political opportunism, choosing to run in a safer district rather than one that matches his current district’s partisan lean.
The new 18th, under the Cervas map, has a partisan voting index, or PVI, of D+0.62, meaning it has only a marginal Democratic tilt. President Joe Biden won the district by 8 points in 2020. By comparison, the new 17th’s partisan voting index is D+3, and Biden won the district over former President Trump by 10 points in 2020.
However, Maloney’s supporters note that he lives in the 17th District, and had no reason to move to a new seat. Some supporters have also questioned whether the ideologically more progressive Jones can win in a marginally-Democratic seat, as opposed to a seat where Biden won by 20 points in 2020.
Neither Maloney nor Jones’ campaign staff responded to inquires from Metro Weekly seeking comment on the situation.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which advocates for LGBTQ political representation, also declined to comment on the map and the prospect of two LGBTQ members of Congress being pitted against each other, thereby lessening the amount of representation for the community.
Besides Maloney and Jones, other New York incumbents may be forced to run against each other. In Manhattan, Cervas chose to split the island along north-south lines instead of its traditional east-west divide (with Central Park serving as the dividing line), pitting longtime U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney against one another.
The map carves up the majority-Black neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant and alters two Black-majority districts into two districts where Black voters only comprise a plurality of voters. Additionally, U.S. Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Yvette Clarke, who both represent Brooklyn, are both placed in the same plurality-Black district.
Jeffries has since released a digital ad lambasting the map-making process for not including enough input from voters of color and city voters.
“The draft map released by a Judicial Overseer in Steuben County and unelected, out-of-town Special Master, both of whom happen to be white men, is part of a vicious national pattern targeting districts represented by members of the Congressional Black Caucus,” Jeffries said in a statement.
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