ITHACA, N.Y. — With New York’s congressional and state senate maps being ruled unconstitutional, the state’s primaries have been thrown back into the limbo that characterized them at the start — politicians running to represent a district they didn’t yet know the shape of. 

The first phase of New York’s maplessness was due to COVID delays in census data being gathered and released, as well as partisan gridlock in the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC). So now, with a ruling from the New York State Court of Appeals condemning the state legislature drawn maps a “gerrymander,” and new maps to come, candidates for the short-lived 53rd state senate district are all saying something akin to, “We’re used to it.”

New York State Senate district 53 from the NYS Legislature ruled unconstitutional. Credit: CUNY Mapping Service at the City University of New York's Graduate Center

Leslie Danks Burke, running in the Democratic primary for the former district, said “I’m right back where I was a couple of months ago, running against four incumbent Republicans at the same time. I’m all in.”

Based in Ithaca, Danks Burke touted that she was pushing her campaign through 14 different counties that could possibly be included in the district she would be a part of. 

Danks Burke said that Upstate New York has been “reeling for 20 years against Republican gerrymanders.” She said the district lines have been thrown out and are being redrawn because gerrymandering was made unconstitutional in 2014 in the referendum that established the IRC.

“We have a new rule against gerrymanders and so that’s what the supreme court has interpreted today,” said Danks Burke. “I do think those Republican gerrymanders have to be undone in some way.”

Under the 53rd state senate district, the Democratic primary was to be between Danks Burke and Lea Webb. 

Webb said that the court’s decision does not change her plans, and she will continue to campaign in the Southern Tier and in Central New York in the name of working people. She added that the 53rd district preserved communities of interest effectively, in her view, and hopes that the next set of maps does so in a similar fashion for Binghamton, and the state at large.

“Whether it relates to the electoral process and other key issues, we need leadership that not only recognizes its importance, but actively works towards changing that experience to be more inclusive,” said Webb. 

Webb, based in Binghamton, may no longer end up facing Danks Burke in the primaries.

Also from Binghamton was the sole candidate in the Republican Primary for the 53rd Senate District, Rich David, the former mayor of the Parlor City. 

Along with the rest of New York State Republicans, David is fired up about the court throwing out the district maps. 

“I do think that these maps were gerrymandered and unconstitutional and the fact that you have those three layers of court that agree with that really validates that point,” he said. 

With the failure of the IRC and the label of gerrymander on the old district lines, David reiterated another talking point as he heads into what may become a contested primary.

He called the failed redistricting process “consistent with the dysfunction that I’ve seen in Albany. And what’s going on right now simply validates and reaffirms that I made the right decision to want to go to Albany and to fight for other people in this region.”

David plans on spreading his campaign across the Southern Tier and into Central New York, while keeping a special focus on his home turf of Binghamton.

June’s congressional and state senate primary elections have been pushed back to Aug. 23 to provide enough time for new maps to be drawn. The gubernatorial primaries are supposed to run on schedule on June 28. Another hearing will be held on May 10 to consider if New York State’s assembly maps should also be thrown out.

The task of redrawing New York State’s maps has been handed to Jonathan Cervas, a redistricting expert and postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University. A hearing will be held in the Town of Bath on May 6 before the first draft is to be released by Cervas on May 16. The final maps are to be released by May 24.

Jimmy Jordan

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