Districts — and Campaigns — In Limbo

Politicians are “full speed ahead,” despite varying levels of uncertainty swirling around Manhattan’s borders as redistricting trudge continues

| 13 May 2022 | 03:32

The world is in a troubling state of tumult, according to third-time congressional candidate Suraj Patel — think crime rates in the city, inflation nationwide and the state of democracy itself. So it’s only fitting that New York’s various district maps aren’t yet settled, either.

“The uncertainty around this election — its date, the gerrymandering — all of that fits right into the feeling that Yeah, wow, things are a little bit out of control,” Patel, whose prospective District 12 has historically included much of Manhattan’s East Side, told Our Town.

A range of maps, from those outlining congressional districts to NYS Assembly borders, have faced legal challenges in recent weeks, lending this year’s primary races a distinctive sense of precariousness. But instead of slowing down, some politicians are embracing the chance to connect with voters on a topic that only makes news every ten years: redistricting.

Changing Lines, Changing Minds

In a still-winding process set in motion by the most recent U.S. census, special master Jonathan Cervas has been appointed to redraw the state’s congressional and Senate districts. First unveiled at the end of January, the new lines were later deemed unconstitutional and, in the case of the congressional districts, were found to exhibit gerrymandering in favor of Democrats. Now, a fresh set of maps are expected by May 20 — and the primary election date has been pushed back from the end of June to August 23.

Early on in the race, candidates including Patel and incumbent Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney made a push to embrace what, according to the originally proposed maps, would have been new Upper West Side voters. Patel launched his campaign in February with a tour of small businesses on the Upper West Side and Maloney gathered with supporters for a campaign rally on the steps of the American Museum of Natural History in March.

“I have no regrets about any of our efforts to engage with potential new voters on the West side,” Maloney told Our Town in a statement. “Time spent talking to New Yorkers and learning about the issues facing different communities in our city is never wasted.”

But as of late, at least for Patel, there’s been a refocusing of campaign efforts to quintessential parts of the district unlikely to get carved out by future redrawings. When his team learned that the District 12 map had been sent back to the drawing board, they decided, “let’s go gung-ho, Upper East Side.”

“We are full speed ahead,” Patel said.

Maloney has maintained far-reaching campaign efforts, opening an office in Astoria and canvassing Stuy-Town. “My campaign has momentum and we aren’t taking our foot off the gas until we win,” she said.

Staying The Course

For NYS Assembly maps, too, there was a threat of changes to district borders and to the primary date on the horizon, thanks to two legal challenges, Spectrum News 1 reported. On May 11, a judge dismissed the legal challenges, though a chance of further controversy reportedly still looms.

The newest NYS Assembly maps covering Manhattan only differ minimally from those prior; for District 75, new maps shaved off the area west of NoMad in favor of a few additional blocks of Hell’s Kitchen. Collaboration across districts is key, candidate Tony Simone said, even though new lines won’t change much.

And as for the timeline, “we’re still operating like we’ve got six weeks to go,” Simone told Our Town. “I’m not going to take my eye off the target.” The NYS Assembly primary will likely proceed as planned on June 28.

Voters Keeping Pace

The oddities of this year’s campaign cycle have become an opportunity for some candidates to engage in a new way with voters. “Most people would wonder if there’s so much voter confusion that it doesn’t make sense to campaign,” Patel said. “We’re finding it’s the opposite. These are the most educated, discerning voters in the country.”

“Less than your typical campaigning, what we’re out there doing is explaining the process and demystifying it,” he added.

It’s a trend holding true across districts and levels of government. Voters in Assembly District 75, who Simone said have been overwhelmingly in the know, “keep saying, ‘Oh, are you going to have to do this till August?’”

In the case of the congressional race, Patel believes extra time to campaign may benefit his third attempt to win over district voters. “New York comes alive in these months,” Patel said.

“We’ve always gotten to the election and we said, ‘God, I wish we had another month,’” he added. “And now we’re going to have two.”

“The uncertainty around this election — its date, the gerrymandering — all of that fits right into the feeling that Yeah, wow, things are a little bit out of control.” Suraj Patel