The Queens delegation to Congress could well take a hit as the state cuts two seats when redistricting this year.
And the election this month of Rep. Bob Turner (R-Queens and Brooklyn) in the 9th District has cast a monkey wrench into the work being done by the state legislature’s redistricting committee.
“Despite what Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver (D-Manhattan) said, Bob Turner’s election will have an effect,” said Brian Browne, assistant vice president of government relations at St. John’s University and an adjunct professor of government and politics Monday.
“It makes things more complicated because when that was Anthony Weiner’s district, it was going to be easy to eliminate,” he said. “Now the Democrats will have to look elsewhere to sacrifice one of their own. And a lot comes down to just how hard the Republicans will fight to preserve Bob Turner.”
Area Democrats who are members of Congress include Joe Crowley (Queens and Bronx), Carolyn Maloney (Manhattan and Queens), Nydia Velazquez (Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan), Gary Ackerman (Queens and Nassau) and Gregory Meeks (Queens).
Crowley is the Queens Democratic chairman.
The conventional wisdom is that the legislature, by gentlemen’s agreement, would eliminate a Republican district upstate and a Democratic one in or around New York City as the state drops from 29 House seats to 27, the lowest number in nearly 200 years.
Weiner’s 9th District was an early favorite among Democrats, as Weiner, though popular with his constituents, was not well-liked by his colleagues in Washington. Dividing his district also could strengthen neighboring Democrats like Ackerman and Crowley.
A texting scandal forced Weiner to resign, and Turner scored an upset win over Democrat David Weprin.
State and local government and party officials all say that it is far too early to know what will happen. But the new district lines must be in place in time for next year’s elections.
Cuomo has said he will not tolerate “business as usual” in deciding how redistricting will be done and who will do it, though Browne said a bill Cuomo put forth in February foundered.
“He hasn’t specified what he will veto or how much business as usual he will tolerate,” Browne said.
Cuomo’s office did not respond to messages seeking comment; nor did the Queens County Democratic Committee.
Michael Whyland, Silver’s press secretary, said the speaker would reserve comment until the legislative task force has done its job. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Nassau) did not return calls.
As for the process itself, former mayor Ed Koch has called on Cuomo to set up an independent redistricting commission that would take more than incumbent protection into consideration.
A recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found New York voters favor an independent commission by a margin of 70 to 17, but also found some favor at least some legislative input.
“The legislature will draw up its plan and Gov. Cuomo will sign it or veto it,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute. “And it’s going to wind up in court.”
Anthony Casale, chief of staff to New York State Republican Chairman Ed Cox, said the process is not an easy one, nor is speculating on what districts will be lost.
“You can’t look at it by district or borough or county,” Casale said. “They have to look at the entire state as a whole. And it’s a lot like a balloon — push in at one point and it expands out somewhere else.”
In regard to Browne’s comments on protecting Turner, Casale and Vince Tabone, vice chairman of the Queens Republican Committee, said Republicans will concede no seats without a fight.
“It’s obvious that people of the 9th District voted for Bob Turner to continue representing them as a district,” Tabone said. “David Weprin is a nice enough guy but he pretty much made it clear that he was going off into the sunset in 14 months rather than stay and fight to maintain the district.”
Browne said some talk has Republicans carving a part out of the 9th to strengthen Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island).
“I don’t see the need,” Tabone said. “Mike Grimm was elected with strong numbers and I think he’ll be re-elected with strong numbers.”
While Meeks is facing ethics and potential criminal investigations, Browne believes Democrats will turn upstate to give up a seat, possibly that of Kathy Hochul of the 26th District.
Hochul won a special election earlier this year in a historically Republican stronghold in the Buffalo-Rochester region less than two weeks before the Weiner scandal broke.
“If you did it strictly by math, Democrats would eliminate Louise Slaughter’s district, also upstate, because that’s where the population losses have been,” he said.
But Slaughter, whose district runs adjacent to Hochul’s along Lake Ontario, also is an entrenched 13-term incumbent.
“They don’t always do it strictly by math,” he said. “And what’s funny is that they all will hire lobbyists to represent them before the state legislature.”
And the wild card, said Browne, is the U.S. Department of Justice, which under the Voting Rights Act must approve all districts in racially and ethnically diverse areas like New York City.
Leroy Gadsden, president of the Jamaica Branch of the NAACP, addressed those very concerns in testimony before the redistricting committee on Sept. 7.
“Every election day we see attempts to dilute our voting strength,” Gadsden said. He called on the state to design every district with equal population ratios and to end racial gerrymandering.
In her testimony on Sept. 7, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall said wholly-contained districts inside each borough is of utmost importance.
“Protecting our neighborhoods and fighting for our needs requires cohesive representation,” she said.
Right now only Meeks’ district is located entirely within Queens