An already chaotic political season in New York has taken another turn. Over the weekend, a court-appointed special master released new maps for congressional and state Senate district lines. It's the latest fallout from the state's convoluted redistricting process.
WNYC senior political correspondent Brigid Bergin spoke with Morning Edition host Michael Hill on where things stand with the newly finalized maps. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
So we have new maps for congressional and state Senate district lines. What does this mean for all of us going to vote?
Well, it means that you might be in a different congressional and state Senate district, and that means you may be voting for an entirely new set of candidates, including a different incumbent. It may also mean that you may be asked to sign a petition for someone who just decided to run for office based on these new maps and can now get on the ballot.
As an example, just last week, former Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he is running for Congress in this newly drawn 10th Congressional District, which includes Lower Manhattan and stretches into Brownstone Brooklyn, including Park Slope. He tweeted pictures of himself out there gathering signatures this weekend, which candidates who want a spot on the primary ballot could start to do as soon as Saturday.
So expect to see lots more running into candidates out and about campaigning this summer since the primary for these congressional and state Senate contests doesn't take place until August 23rd.
So that means we have two primaries this summer —June 28th for statewide races, like governor and state assembly races — and then August 23rd for the state Senate and congressional contests. How do we end up in this spot?
To answer that we need to do a little recap. And that means going all the way back to 2014, which is when voters approved a constitutional amendment setting up a bipartisan commission, which was supposed to take the politics out of redrawing political districts.
Unfortunately, the commission failed and couldn't come up with maps that both sides agreed on so the state Legislature, controlled by Democrats, took over and drew their own maps earlier this year. Not surprisingly, those maps benefited the Democrats and Republicans sued over the congressional and state Senate lines.
They won in a ruling upheld by the state's highest court and that ruling moved the primary date for the congressional and state Senate race to August 23rd. That ruling also appointed Jonathan Cervas, a post-doctoral fellow from Carnegie Mellon University, as what's called a special master who was tasked with redrawing these maps.
Now he released a draft of the maps last Monday, and that set off its own series of chess moves by some candidates, but Cervas then got an earful from the public — people who are angry over the way some of his lines split groups of like voters, so-called communities of interest. So he made some adjustments before releasing a final version early Saturday morning.
Now what this all means is one part of the process seems to be maybe winding down, but Michael there are still at least two more open court cases that could change things up even more.
This seems to be a textbook example of making this more confusing for voters when we need more simplicity. So what else could change?
The latest ones that they should be aware of this week are two pending lawsuits. One, a group of Republican petitioners will be in a Manhattan courtroom this morning in a case that's trying to throw out the current state Assembly lines and get those primaries moved to either August or September.
And then there's also a hearing on Wednesday for a different case filed by the League of Women Voters, asking the court to move all of the primaries to September. Now, of course, there could be other challenges filed this week by people really just trying to digest the maps that were released this weekend. But those two cases are the ones to watch for now.
Beyond more potential change from the courts, these primary contests are getting interesting in and of themselves. For instance, you mentioned the 10th Congressional District, what seems to be attracting a real range of candidates from Mayor Bill de Blasio to freshman and Congressman Mondaire Jones. Isn't Jones' district way up in the Hudson Valley?
That is the chaos factor that's at play because of the way this map-drawing process really broke down. When Cervas, the special master, released draft maps on Monday, candidates began staking their claim on different districts and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney quickly announced that he would run for the new 17th Congressional District, which Jones currently represents — which, as you mentioned, is in the Hudson Valley. Now in that region, Jones would either have had to primary Maloney who, by the way, is head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or Congressman Jamaal Bowman.
Now Bowman, like Jones, is African American, they're both progressives. So when the final maps came out, Jones made his own quick announcement that he too would be running for the New York 10th Congressional District. He is the first openly gay African-American man in Congress, and he talked about the importance of that in terms of LGBTQ+ history. And since members of Congress don't technically need to live in their district, there's nothing stopping Jones from running. Although his announcement did leave a lot of people scratching their heads.
Another candidate who jumped in the race this weekend is Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou who represents Chinatown and Lower Manhattan. She is also a progressive with much deeper roots in the community. Others may also jump in this race, but those three come to this race with certain assets, financial or otherwise that others just starting out might not have.
Is there anything else we should be watching for this week?
There is a special election for an Assembly seat in Brooklyn on Tuesday. This is the fifth special election for a state legislative seat that was vacated this year; this time it's parts of east Flatbush, Canarsie, and Brownsville, that has an open seat. And so far less than 300 people have turned out during early voting. And that's out of a potential of more than 70,000 voters in the district. Special elections are open to any registered voter. So if you are in this district, the polls will be open on Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m..
Get out there. These races are decided by such a small margin. Your vote will make a huge difference.