ITHACA, N.Y.—With the New York State Court of Appeals throwing out the state legislature drawn maps, candidates are vying for office on an uncertain playing field. The 53rd state senate district of New York, now deemed unconstitutional, was set to give a strong edge to Democrats in a region that consistently has been putting Republicans into state office. 

Now, a court appointed “special master,” Jonathan Cervas, a redistricting expert and postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University will be drawing the new maps under the supervision of Supreme Court Justice Patrick McAllister, who initially ruled against New York’s congressional and state senate maps as an unconstitutional gerrymander

McAllister moved the congressional and state senate primary elections from June 28 to Aug 23 to accommodate the time it will take for Cervas to draw that new maps, which a draft of will be released on May 16 and a final version released on May 24.

“The Special Master could just blow up all the proposals and start from scratch,” said Jim Twombly, a professor of Political Science at Elmira College. “And we could have a map on May 24 that looks vastly different from anything we’ve seen so far.”

In the case of the now unconstitutional 53rd State Senate race, Twombly said Republican Rich David may stand the most to gain from the redistricting process. The 53rd district that the state legislature had previously approved included the Cities of Ithaca and Binghamton, and favored Democrats in terms of its registered voters. 

David was the only Republican to get onto the ballot for the left leaning district. Though, Binghamton-based David may be drawn into another district where he will have to face-off against other Republicans, the 53rd could become a closer reach for a Republican candidate, and he’s avoided the costs a primary can incur.

“He’s in the right place at the right time. He was able to catch lightning in a bottle,” said Twombly.

Despite the uncertainty, Democratic primary candidate Leslie Danks Burke, running in the short-lived 53rd state senate district, is opening a campaign office in Binghamton on Friday. 

Danks Burke, who’s based in Ithaca may not end up in a district that includes Binghamton. Though she doesn’t see her Binghamton office as a “risk.” She said that the office will give her a broad reach across the Southern Tier region to connect with potential constituents when the new maps are finalized. 

“I’m ready to run against whatever incumbent Republican I end up being districted with,” said Danks Burke.

The plans to open an office in Binghamton had been in place for awhile, said Danks Burke.

When the maps are finalized, she said she would move her campaign office to some other place if she has to.

In Danks Burke view, the volatile redistricting process doesn’t benefit any candidate particularly, just those that are “willing to work.” With the arrival of new district maps, candidates will potentially need to dive back into petitioning in order to remain on the ballot, adding strain on campaign staffing and finances. 

“The people who are going to benefit from it are the people who are willing to work,” said Danks Burke.

The redistricting process, Danks Burke said, has not put voters first, calling the confusion that has ensued a “disservice to democracy” — a point which her primary candidate, Lea Webb has also emphasized.

David, Danks Burke, and Webb have all committed to campaigning broadly in the Southern Tier, Finger Lakes, and Central New York areas that may be included in the next district they’re placed in.

The redistricting continues?

A motion has been filed this week by Gary Greenberg, a former Albany County legislator, seeking to delay the primaries for the state assembly elections and state wide elections. Greenberg, a Democrat, is also asking for a special master to redraw the state assembly districts which — after the Independent Redistricting Commission failed to complete its task — were also drafted by the state legislature.

Greenberg contends that if the state senate and congressional districts are unconstitutional, so are the state assembly districts since they were drawn by the state legislature as well.

Governor Kathy Hochul said she thinks the assembly and all statewide races should proceed on the regular schedule. Reports have been emphasizing the possibility of former Gov. Andrew M Cuomo entering the gubernatorial race if the primary date was pushed back, and the petition process restarted.

The Albany Times-Union reported that a “source close to Cuomo” confirmed that if the former governor were to enter the race, he would do so as an independent. Since resigning from office amid sexual harassment allegations, Cuomo has been making a significant effort to restore his public image.

Under the April 28 New York State Court of Appeals ruling, the IRC may no longer be the body that draws New York’s districts if reforms are not instituted. Rather, it would be the state’s highest court that would hold that duty.

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn