Op-Ed: Redistricting to the Extreme

The plan by the Democratic majorities in the New York State Legislature for redistricting Congressional Districts, including those on Long Island, is an extreme case of gerrymandering.

It illustrates what that word is about. The “gerry” is for Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry and how redistricting was done under him in 1812. The “mander” is for salamander—what the configuration of one Massachusetts Senate district looked like. Now it’s salamander time on Long Island for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Consider what has been done to the 1st Congressional District. I’ve covered lst C.D. politics since I started as a journalist in Suffolk in 1962. The district has long consisted of the five East End towns, all of Brookhaven Town and most of Smithtown.

“Preservation of communities of interest” is important when it comes to redistricting which is done to reflect population changes after the national census every decade.

“Redistricting Criteria,” a publication of the National Conference of State Legislatures, says “traditional districting principles or criteria” include “preservation of communities of interest.” The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law defines communities of interest as reflecting “groups of individuals who are likely to have similar legislative concerns, and who might benefit from cohesive representation.” It says states across the nation consider this “in drawing district lines.” The provision is included in some state constitutions, it goes on, and in other states is among the “guidelines by the bodies conducting redistricting.”

There has been a relative fit in the 1st CD. The East End towns are semi-rural. Much of Brookhaven Town and Smithtown are country-like. Both Democrats and GOPers have represented the district.

But now, in the Democratic push to load the 1st C.D. with areas solid with Democratic voters, the 1st C.D. would change. All five East End towns would stay in it—other than GOP-leaning areas in southwestern Southampton Town. Eliminated there would be a stretch that includes Westhampton and East Quogue.

Then the 1st C.D. would take in only the northern half of Brookhaven which includes plenty of Democrats connected to Stony Brook University. The southern half of the town with its many Republican-voting communities is out.

Smithtown is cherry-picked and would include Democratic-inclined Commack. Nissequogue is out; Head of the Harbor is in.

The district would then extend west into the Town of Islip and pull in heavily Democratic Brentwood, Central Islip and North Bay Shore. Further west. it would take in the northern portion of Babylon Town, which votes reliably Democrat, and a southern part of the Town of Huntington including Democratic-voting Dix Hills.

Going further west, the 1st C.D. would take in the Democratic bastions of Plainview and Bethpage—in Nassau County.

With due respect to Plainview and Bethpage—how do they constitute “communities of interest” with Head of the Harbor or New Suffolk or Wading River or Setauket or Montauk?

Also, with the reconfiguring of the 1st C.D., Suffolk County would for the first time in decades not have a Congressional district consisting of only Suffolk.

What will be done to the GOP areas cut out of the 1st C.D.? Most will be moved into the 2nd C.D made up of the Republican-voting southern portions of the Towns of Islip and Babylon and southern Nassau, all apparently being written off as a lost Democratic cause.

The gerrymandering in the Democratic plan also applies to the 3rd C.D., still based in Huntington and northern Nassau and Queens—but under the plan it would be extended up to Democratic Bronx and east into Westchester County on the other side of the Long Island Sound.

If you want to see where your community is supposed to end up—if a Republican lawsuit challenging the redistricting is not successful—visit: https://newyork.redistrictingandyou.org/

The gerrymandering is seen as greatly assisting Democratic chances in the 1st and 3rd C.D.’s. In 2020 Donald Trump won by 4% in the 1st C.D. The remapping of the 1st C.D. is projected as allowing the Democratic candidate for president in 2024 to win the district by 11%. Also, in the coming midterm election it offers a House seat with good “pick-up” potential.

Why have Democrats gone to such redistricting lengths this year? First, with overwhelming majorities in the State Assembly and Senate, they could. And Democratic leadership after the Jan.6th insurrection wanted Trump ally Lee Zeldin out of the House. Indeed, the redistricting eliminates Shirley, where Zeldin lives, from the 1st C.D. Before it took place, however, he decided to leave the House anyway to run for governor.

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