Democrats and Republicans on New York State’s Independent Redistricting Commission, the bipartisan team that redraws voting lines, failed to agree on one map for the state last week on Monday, Jan 3. The vote was deadlocked between two competing maps.
Based on 2020’s Census count, New York State lost a congressional seat, going from 27 to 26 congress members. It also kicked off the redistricting process.
The redistricting commission is composed of 10 appointed members, four Democrats, four Conservatives, one Independent, and headed by Chairman David Imamura. The commission was created in 2014 so the team could draft a redistricting map that will then be voted on by the State Legislature.
However, there’s usually just one planned map for congress, state senate and assembly districts. Since the commission is relatively new, a tie has never occurred before, said Imamura.
Last September, after 24 hearing sessions and public forums, the commission couldn’t agree on one map that represented people’s interests, so each side put out their own for a vote. The map needed at least seven of the ten commission members, but map “A” for Democrats and map “B” for Republicans each got five votes.
The main differences on the congressional maps affect more historically Republican places in Long Island, Staten Island, mid-Hudson Valley, and upstate. For the state senate, the differences are in Long Island, mid-Hudson Valley, Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester, said Imamura.
New York City, in terms of the five boroughs, is “largely” unchanged because the Democrats and Republicans came to an agreement on the city. Though there was a huge back and forth over the incredibly diverse Sunset Park and Bensonhurst neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Part of Sunset Park might’ve been lumped in with Lower Manhattan, but others advocated to keep the neighborhood whole.
City & State said the fight over Brooklyn was “likely part of a larger fight over the Jewish votes in the district” since even these minute differences can have enormous impacts on voting blocs.
District lines aren’t meant to deny any race, political party, or minority voting rights, but keep ‘communities of interests’ that share similar standards of living, economic and societal concerns within a certain area. District lines that split these communities are a part of a legacy of partisan gerrymandering, which has historically affected low-income communities and communities of color.
In the commission’s virtual meeting on Jan. 3, Imamura, Republican Vice Chair Commissioner Jack Martins, and Commissioner Eugene Benger exchanged some heated words in an attempt to set the record straight on why and how the breakdown happened.
Imamura said that he was proud of the efforts of the team and participating New Yorkers. But, he felt that his Republican colleagues hadn’t tried to compromise or incorporate public input.
“Based on these negotiations, my Democratic colleagues and I presented our Republican colleagues with a single proposal incorporating many of the points we have agreed on,” said Imamura in the meeting. “The Republican members rejected that plan. We asked them to share a counterproposal. They refused.”
Martins immediately countered that he was surprised by Imamura’s tone, and maintained that there were slight differences in the maps that could have been finished in “good faith” but Democrats didn’t want to continue negotiations.
Benger called Martins’ characterizations of negotiations “self-serving” and “factually inaccurate.”
The Amsterdam News reached out to Imamura for further comments about the breakdown in communication between both sides, but he said he refers to his comments made in the Jan. 3 meeting.
The next steps in the process are for both maps to go to the State Legislature for a vote. If the maps are rejected, then they go back to the commission. If the maps still aren’t accepted, the State Legislature can draw their own voting lines and approve them from there, said Imamura.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America Corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w