The special master shuffles legislative districts one final time

It’s not even the end of May, but this is turning out to be one of the more unusual political years in recent memory.

New York State politics this year hasn’t had its traditional New York City slant.  Kathy Hochul from Buffalo, who became governor just nine months ago, has dominated the state’s politics.  Dealing with issues like the Covid response, bail reform, a new budget, and many other simpler matters, Hochul dominates the news nearly every day.

On the political front Hochul’s campaign financial filing in January showed her far ahead in dollars compared to both her Democratic and Republican rivals, having raised more than all six of them combined.  The indictment and resignation of Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin presented serious problems, but while the matter lingers politically, in a short period of time Benjamin was gone and his successor, Antonio Delgado, selected.

There is still the matter of primaries for governor, lieutenant governor, Assembly seats, and local offices on June 28th plus congressional and state Senate primaries on August 23rd; and oh yeah, the special election for Tom Reed’s seat, probably in early August.  There’s enough to keep politicos busy over the summer.

There have been five versions of redistricting maps presented this year:  from the Republican members of the Independent Redistricting Commission; another from Democrats on thar panel; the plan approved by the state Legislature; a draft from the judicially appointed Special Master; and then the latest and final drawing of the congressional and state Senate districts that was announced in the middle of the night Saturday.  How ironic considering the state Legislature is often criticized for doing its work in the middle of the night.

Republicans are mostly ecstatic about the new lines, having been handed favorable congressional and state Senate district lines by the unelected “Special Master” who was appointed by a judge.  The Master’s plans considerably improved their election chances compared with what the elected State Legislature produced.

Democrats have suggested that the Master’s lines ignore traditional ethnic and racial community structure and focus more on the orderly look of the districts.  By appearance there are certainly some gerrymander shaped districts coming out the Master’s work.  The post-midnight final plan responded to some of the concerns submitted by the public and elected officials.

In Erie County, Congressman Brian Higgins’ new district is very similar to his current district and is heavily Democratic (62-38 percent, based on the 2020 presidential vote).  Congressman Chris Jacobs resides in the new 23rd district which includes portions of southern Erie County as well as the western end of Tom Reed’s former southern tier district.  The new district is heavily Republican (59-41 percent).  Congresswoman Claudia Tenney will take the new heavily Republican 24th district (59-41 percent) that includes eastern Niagara County and stretches to Watertown; none of Erie County is in that new district.

In the early morning version of the Master’s maps, state Senate seats in Erie County were revised considerably from what the Master presented just last Monday. Senators Sean Ryan and Ed Rath now both live in the new 61st district, which is heavily Democratic (63-37 percent). County Republicans on Saturday were organizing a petitioning blitz to get Rath on the ballot in the district that was on the table from Monday’s draft plan. Overnight the plan switched to place Rath together with Ryan in the new 61st district. Rath went this year from being a candidate for re-election; to backing out of and apparently officially declining to run; to deciding to run; and now, perhaps, to dropping out again.

Senator Tim Kennedy’s new district is heavily Democratic (71-29 percent), while Senator Pat Gallivan’s new district is wholly contained in Erie County and is Republican by a comfortable margin (55-45 percent).

And then there is the candidacy of Joel Giambra, who a couple weeks ago announced that he would be the Republican candidate against Sean Ryan in the legislatively drawn district, which stretched from Hamburg through the westside of Buffalo, through the Tonawandas, and up to Niagara Falls. The Master considerably changed that district, transforming it into a heavily suburban district in northern Erie County that Ryan lives in. Giambra may run in the redesigned 61st district.

In all cases for candidates for Congress and the state Senate who previously had filed petitions to run, all they need to do is to file a Certificate of Designation with the Board of Elections by May 31 telling the Board which district they will run in. New candidates will need to petition their way onto the ballot.

If all this is confusing, take comfort in knowing that the politicos in Erie County and Western New York are still trying to wrap their arms around all the craziness too. The Special Master has spoken, and the judge has confirmed his work. The judge is trying to explain this all as an objective, non-partisan plan, but as the expression goes, “if it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it’s a duck.” The new congressional and senate plan looks like a gerrymander.

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