Congressional, senate candidates react to court throwing out new district lines

Kristen Gonzalez -1
State Senate District 17 Candidate Kristen Gonzalez.
Photo courtesy of Kristen Gonzalez for NY Senate

State Senate and Congressional candidates had mixed reactions to the state’s highest court throwing out new district lines drawn by the Democratic-controlled legislature Wednesday. Some are waiting for a court appointed expert to draw new maps to decide if they’ll stay in their respective races, while others have declared they’ll keep running no matter what the maps ultimately look like.

The New York State Court of Appeals issued an unprecedented 4 to 3 decision Wednesday, upholding rulings from two lower courts, that said the state legislature drawn maps were unconstitutional because they were drawn to advantage Democratic candidates. The decision said those Congressional and state Senate maps are now void and must be redrawn by a court appointed expert, known as a special master.

The state legislature gained control over the redistricting process after a new non-partisan commissioner – established through a 2014 constitutional amendment that followed a statewide referendum vote – twice failed to agree upon a set of maps.

Steuben County Supreme Court judge Patrick McAllister named Carnegie Mellon University fellow Jonathan Cervas as special master before the Court of Appeals even made its ruling. Cervas has until May 20 to draw the new district lines that will then be approved by McAllister.

It was reported Friday that McAllister announced the Congressional and state Senate primaries will be pushed back from June 28 to August 23, in order to give candidates enough time to petition to get on the ballot for the new districts and campaign.

Meanwhile, the New York Post also reported Friday that McAllister is giving Democratic legislative leaders more time to submit suggested changes to their original maps. They have until May 4 to file suggestions for amended district lines.

The decision comes as candidates in several races for entirely new or reshaped districts have already collected signatures to get on the ballot and have been running for over two months.

One of those candidates is Kristen Gonzalez, who’s running as a Democratic socialist in the now-defunct Senate District 17, which was newly created in this past redistricting and included Long Island City, Greenpoint, Ridgewood and Maspeth. As a new district, there are three main options for what could happen to District 17: it could be moved to another part of the city or the state entirely, it could remain in the same place with either slightly or dramatically different lines or it could stay exactly the same.

State Senate District 17 Candidate Kristen Gonzalez and her supporters. Photo courtesy of Kristen Gonzalez for NY Senate.

Gonzalez told PoliticsNY that the future of her candidacy will depend on which of these options Cervas decides to pursue, but until then she’s going to continue campaigning. 

“We have an independent special master who can do truly anything, right and so there’s no way of knowing what the outcome will be for sure,” Gonzalez said. “We’re going to be keeping a close eye, waiting for these snaps to come out. But for right now, until we have real information, new information, we’re still in the race. And what we really are organizers at heart. And so we’re going to just keep on organizing.”

While Gonzalez said she was shocked by the court’s decision to strike down the maps after she and other candidates had already been campaigning for two months and that it’s a “symptom of a larger issue.”

“We deserve a clear process. We deserve clear election dates. It’s putting us in a time of incredible uncertainty,” Gonzalez said. “And after we’ve talked to thousands of voters so far and let them know that they were in a new district. Let them know that there was a primary coming up on June 26. So, to now have all of those folks who were given information after a new district was created and then now it’s up in the air, is definitely frustrating for New Yorkers.”

In southern Brooklyn, state Senate District 27, a district created to give the Asian community its first plurality district in Albany, may also not exist after the special master gets through his work. Iwen Chu, a Democratic candidate running for the seat who has worked as Assembly Member Peter Abbate’s (D – Brooklyn) chief of staff for the past decade, said in a series of tweets she was awaiting Cervas’ decision but would work to represent the community no matter what happens.

“As I continue to review the decision & await the special master’s resolution on new district lines for the State Senate, I remain hopeful that our community will keep this seat. This district was drawn after significant public input & based on the interests of the community,” Chu said in a Tweet. “I have dedicated the last 17 years to Southern Brooklyn communities, and I will continue to do everything I can to ensure representation. No matter what challenges we face, I will get us there.”

State Senate District 27 candidate Iwen Chu collected signatures. Photo courtesy of Iwen Chu Campaign.

Other candidates, however, have already declared they’re going to keep running no matter what the district they were originally campaigning in ultimately gets redrawn to look like.

One of those candidates is state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D – Bronx, Westchester), who’s running in a crowded field to replace U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D – Long Island, Queens) New York’s third Congressional District. Suozzi is running in the Democratic primary for governor against Gov. Kathy Hochul and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and isn’t seeking reelection.

Biaggi originally jumped into the race because Suozzi’s district, which previously just included Long Island and Queens, was redrawn to cover parts of the Bronx and Westchester. In a statement Thursday, Biaggi declared she’s staying in the race regardless of what shape the district ultimately takes.

“I entered this race because I am deeply committed to fighting for the people of NY-3 and protecting abortion and voting rights, combatting the climate crisis, and expanding access to affordable healthcare and housing,” Biaggi said. “I am the most experienced, qualified, and committed candidate in NY-3, and I am staying in this race.”