Republicans have complained that the new congressional district maps drawn by Democrats are unconstitutional and reek of gerrymandering. And the New York Court of Appeals agreed with them, rejecting the maps on April 27.
“Gerrymandering is as old as the country,” said Bill Biamonte, a former Democratic commissioner for the Nassau County Board of Elections. “It was started by Elbridge Gerry, who signed the bill creating redistricting [in Massachusetts] in 1812. State legislation didn’t exist before to prevent this from happening until a couple of years ago.”
Nassau County Legislator Joshua Lafazan, who is one of six candidates running for U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi’s 3rd Congressional District seat, said he wasn’t surprised that the maps were tossed. “I look at other states across the country where there have been so many legal fights with this,” Lafazan said, “so I knew New York wouldn’t be an exception.”
Several outcomes stemming from the decision are still uncertain. Lafazan and others running for Congress have campaigned in areas that may not be part of the newly drawn maps. The new maps are to be submitted by May 20, after being redrawn by a court-appointed special master, Jonathan Cervas. In the meantime, Senate and congressional primaries have been moved forward from June 28 to Aug. 23.
Cervas’s map may be set aside as well. That’s what happened in 1994, when the Nassau County Legislature was formed. A special master was appointed, but Democrats and Republicans compromised so their maps were used instead.
The gubernatorial Democratic primary, between Gov. Kathy Hochul, Suozzi and New York public advocate Jumanne Williams, will be held on June 28, as planned. But because the federal primaries are being delayed, if Suozzi loses the primary, he could run for re-election to Congress, according to his campaign manager, Mike Florio.
In an interview on Tuesday on NY 1’s Mornings on 1, however, Suozzi said he was planning to run for governor and winning the Democratic primary. “That’s what I’m focused on,” he said. When pushed about a possible congressional re-election bid, he said, “I’m not running for Congress.”
State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, of the Bronx, who is running for Suozzi’s congressional seat, plans to stay in the race. “I entered this race because I am deeply committed to fighting for the people of NY-3 and protecting abortion and voting rights, combating the climate crisis, and expanding access to affordable healthcare and housing,” Biaggi wrote in an email. “I am the most experienced, qualified, and committed candidate in NY-3.”
Regardless of what areas are included in the new map, Biaggi can run, Bia-monte said. “You have to live in the state, not the district,” he said. “But there is no rationale for her to run if her entire area isn’t included in the new map.”
Suozzi said that voters have had enough of gerrymandered maps, with district lines drawn to favor one party or the other. “The idea of crossing the Throgs Neck Bridge from Queens up into the Bronx and Westchester, that’s what people are sick of in politics,” he said. “They are sick of the games, of people fighting all the time instead of actually solving the problems. Let’s work together to actually solve the problems people are facing these days.”
Robert Zimmerman, another contender for Suozzi’s seat, said he, too, was running regardless of how the new map is drawn. “I’m in this fight because of the issues facing our communities,” he said. “This is the most defining election for our nation since the Civil War. Our democracy is under assault.”
Holding two primaries will cost millions of additional dollars, James Scheuerman, Nassau County’s Democratic election commissioner, said. Each primary costs between $2.3 million and $2.5 million.
“The work for the board will increase,” Scheuerman said. “The petition process will have to take place again [for statewide offices], which will be a burden on the board, and then there are the objections. We’ll have to find pollsters in the summer, which we’ve never done before, and inspectors will need to be hired, too.”
Polling places are usually in schools, he added, where there is traditionally a concern about the presence of children. In the summer, the schools will be empty, but some may have summer recreation programs. “It’s the unknown,” Scheuerman said. “All of the county commissioners are concerned about the money, resources and venues that will be needed for polling sites.”
Although Lafazan has spent a lot of money campaigning in Westchester, Queens and the Bronx, he said it’s important not to focus on what can’t be controlled. “As soon as we get the new lines,” he said, “we will campaign just as hard.”