ALBANY — New York Democrats are now in the catbird seat in the battle for control of how boundary lines will be drawn for congressional and state legislative districts.
The New York State Independent Redistricting Commission arrived at a stalemate Wednesday in the drawing of new elective district maps, a process that takes place each decade following the national census count.
The panel ended up issuing two maps, one reflecting the wishes of its Democratic members, the other drawn by its Republican members.
The Democratic draft maps suggested their top targets in the 2022 mid-term elections are: Reps. Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford; John Katko, R-Auburn; and Nicole Malliotakis, R-Staten Island.
While the commission is set to hold a series of public forums on the maps, the fact it could not strike a compromise could set the stage for the Democratic supermajorities in the state Senate and Assembly to determine the final lines — if the federal courts don't step in to resolve possible litigation.
Because the draft maps are simply proposals that still need to be vetted before the public, incumbent elected officials for the most part issued no comment on them.
But several Republicans complained the process is now anything but "independent," arguing the goal for Democrats is to knock out as many GOP incumbents from New York's congressional delegation.
"From everything I understand, the Democratic leaders both in Albany and Washington interfered with the process and made it impossible for the independent commission to act in a bipartisan way," said former GOP Rep. John Faso of Columbia County. The former state Assembly member had served one term in the House when he was defeated in 2018 by Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck.
"Everything was working well until the party bosses got involved," Faso added.
In a move that raised eyebrows among some Democrats in the Albany region, the Democratic proposal would strip Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, of the heavily Democratic city of Albany, while putting his hometown in a district now largely represented by Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga County.
Reached in Cooperstown, Republican strategist Vincent Casale, former Otsego County GOP chairman, said the Democratic map is expected to amplify speculation that Tonko is preparing to retire, since the draft lines would put him an uphill race against Stefanik.
Tonko, who turned 72 in June and collects a state pension after more than 23 years in the state Legislature, has not signaled he plans to retire at the end of his current term.
Casale said the redistricting process will create impacts that will be long-lasting.
The Democrats are going to try to use every ounce of their power to solidify their power forever, and that is no exaggeration," he said.
But Democrats suggested the Republicans, were they in a dominant position in the Legislature, would be just as energetic in using redistricting to benefit their favored candidates.
"For the Republicans to cry victim is just ridiculous," said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic consultant. "The Republicans would be doing the same thing if they were in charge."
New York will see its influence on Capitol Hill diminish as a result of redistricting. The state will lose one of its 27 congressional districts because of its relatively slow population growth. In the most recent census, New York fell just 89 residents short of what was needed to prevent the loss of a seat.
State GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy lashed out at Democrats, accusing them of attempting to "drag this process out, hoping New Yorkers aren't paying attention."
He blamed Democrats for a process he labeled "a political sham built on a foundation of lies and hypocrisy."
Democrats suggested there could be benefits in releasing the two competing maps in that they will generate much public discussion.
"In the interest of public participation, we decided to put both sets of maps out," said the redistricting commission chairman, David Imamura.
Tom Dadey, former chairman of the Onondaga County GOP, suggested the new commission was pre-destined to hit a stalemate, as it was stocked with five Democrats and five Republicans, allowing the final decisions to be made by the Democratic leaders in Albany.
"Their goals will be to obliterate the eight Republicans in the House and take it as close as they can to zero because it will help Nancy Pelosi," the Democratic House speaker representing San Francisco, Dadey said.
New York's loss of one congressional seat left the district represented by Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, vulnerable to significant changes in redistricting because he has indicated he is not seeking re-election.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org