ITHACA, N.Y. — New York’s congressional and state legislature districts are in. On one hand, the maps represent a failure in the bipartisan approach established through the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC); on the other, the gerrymandered districts are a big boost for Democrats seeking office in the state legislature and even beyond.
The changes to the state legislature and congressional maps also reflect long-held desires of Tompkins County. A left-leaning stronghold largely due to the population center in Ithaca, the previous redistricting process placed Tompkins County in heavily Republican congressional and state senate districts, diluting the influence progressive and more centrist Democratic voters could have in their political representation.
However, 2022’s district maps being drawn by the heavily Democratic state legislature was a process meant to be avoided. Since the IRC failed to avoid the quagmire of partisan interests, the 10-member commission (evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats) was stuck submitting two sets of maps, one endorsed by each opposing party.
As per the 2014 constitutional amendment that established the IRC, it then became the legislature’s job in 2022 to finish drawing these maps.
The concern of “elected officials choosing their voters vs the other way around” has experts, like Steven Ramlweski, director of the CUNY Graduate Center’s Mapping Service wondering if the reformed redistricting process will now need to be reformed.
The legislature’s maps garnered the praise of IRC David Imamura, the Democratic chairman of the redistricting commission. State Republican Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy has said that the GOP is exploring the potential of challenging the maps in court.
Governor Kathy Hochul has said that she will sign any districts approved by the legislature.
Tompkins County’s New Districts
The state legislature’s congressional maps add 3 winnable districts for Democrats. Tompkins County anchors a deep blue congressional district spanning from the shores of Seneca Lake into Central New York, encompassing the cities of Syracuse, Cortland, Geneva and Ithaca. The district will absorb most of the two districts currently held by Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY22) and John Katko (R-NY24). CNN now deems the district a “Solid Democratic” seat, with a +18 result for President Joe Biden in 2020.
The consolidation would have pit Tenney against Katko in a primary, had Katko not chosen to retire in January. While that potential fight is avoided, it’s still a not district Tenney is willing to fight for.
Tenney announced she would be running for New York’s 23rd congressional district which largely resembles the current 23rd district (though without Ithaca), held by Republican Tom Reed, who announced his intention not to run amid sexual misconduct allegations in March 2021. The 23rd Congressional district spans along the Souther Tier of New York, and its furthest reaches are hundreds of miles from Tenney’s home.
At the moment, Central NY’s new true-blue congressional district, known as New York’s 22nd Congressional District, has attracted attention of several candidates, primarily in the Syracuse area. The stage is set for a heated Democratic primary with a shortened length of time for candidates to develop their campaigns before June.
In the state senate district Tompkins County is placed in, a primary race is already off to a start, albeit a timid one, as candidates were guessing at what their district would look like throughout 2021.
Before the map was finalized, Ithaca-area Democrats Leslie Danks Burke, Dr. Ammitai Worob, and former Binghamton City Councilwoman Lea Webb were developing their campaigns in the areas that are now formally New York’s 53rd Senate district.
On the other side of the aisle, would-be Republican incumbent State Senator Fred Akshar (R-52) announced in June of 2021 that he would not be seeking reelection in 2022 to focus on running for Broome County Sherriff. In the 53rd Senate district, former-Binghamton Mayor Rich David will be running on the Republican ticket.
Data from the New York Times indicates that Biden led Trump with 58.5% of the vote in the 2020 presidential election in this district. Both Danks Burke and Webb have praised the legislature’s state senate district lines.
The district encompasses all of Tompkins County, and the majority of Cortland County, although not the City of Cortland or the surrounding town of Cortlandville. Eastern portions of Tioga County are within the district, including the Town of Owego. The most populated town in the highly rural Tioga County, and its commercial center, Owego awkwardly rests on the border of two districts. Broome county’s western portion is also placed in the 53rd senate district, encompassing the Triple Cities area (Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott).
In the state senate, Democrats could add up to 5 seats in November to their majority control. Democrats currently hold 43 of the 63 seats in the senate.
Assembly district 125 appears entirely unchanged, combining the whole of Tompkins County with a portion of Cortland County, including the City of Cortland and Town of Cortlandville. This seems to pave the way for Assemblymember Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca) to easily secure her seat in the 2022 election.
The maps largely fulfilled the requests that the Democrat dominated Tompkins County legislature submitted to the IRC throughout its public input process, namely including the county within one state senate district where it had previously been divided between three, and keeping it with the City of Cortland in the assembly.