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The messy, Democrat-on-Democrat fight over New York’s congressional map, explained

The map hasn’t even been finalized and it’s already getting ugly.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, chair of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, has made the controversial decision to potentially challenge a first-term representative in New York’s new 17th District.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc./Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

2022 was already shaping up to be a really tough year for Democrats as they contend with President Joe Biden’s unpopularity, inflation, and historically bad odds for the party of the incumbent president in the midterms. The last thing they needed was a big internal fight to overshadow what looked like one of their bright spots this year.

But that’s what they are getting in New York.

On Friday, a state court is expected to finalize new congressional maps that, if adopted without changes from the draft version released earlier this week, would suddenly pit high-ranking Democratic incumbents against each other in the August 23 primaries. The version originally proposed by Democrats in the state legislature largely avoided those primary fights and would have likely netted Democrats an additional three House seats. Democrats seemed to finally have figured out how to combat Republican advantages carved out through gerrymandering — the practice of redrawing electoral districts for partisan advantage — and New York was to be exhibit A of that success. But the map Democrats signed off on was invalidated by the state Court of Appeals.

Among New York’s current congressional delegation, there are 19 Democrats, seven Republicans, and one open seat. New York lost one seat based on the results of the 2020 census. With the map they initially proposed for this round of redistricting, Democrats were hoping to win 22 seats, leaving Republicans with four. But under the new map, they could have as much of a split as 15 Democrats to 11 Republicans, according to the Cook Political Report.

This is where things really get ugly and personal for New York’s congressional Democrats: The new lines drastically change some of the existing districts, putting them on a collision course with their current colleagues for a chance to remain in Congress at all. Some are waiting for the state court to finalize the new map before they announce where they will run, but others have made their intentions known, meaning the intra-party fighting has started before the map is even approved.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. Jerry Nadler, chair of the Judiciary Committee, have already said that they would face off in a newly created 12th District spanning upper Manhattan. Both have been in office for nearly three decades. Nadler has objected to the draft map, saying that it defies state “constitutional requirements of keeping communities of interest together and keeping the cores of existing districts largely intact,” but said that he would challenge Maloney if he must.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the centrist head of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, was quick to announce after the draft map was released that he would run in the 17th District, currently occupied by Rep. Mondaire Jones, a first-term Black progressive. That leaves Jones with a tough decision of whether to defend his seat or run in the new 16th District, which now encompasses his home of White Plains, against Rep. Jamaal Bowman, also a Black progressive. Some Democrats have expressed concern about Maloney’s decision to run in the 17th, saying it creates a conflict of interest and that he should step down from his position as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“Sean Patrick Maloney did not even give me a heads-up before he went on Twitter to make that announcement,” Jones told Politico on Monday. “And I think that tells you everything you need to know about Sean Patrick Maloney.”

Maloney has said that he is the only current Congress member who resides in the 17th District, which would also encompass many of the Hudson Valley communities he currently represents under the new map.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, could run in the new Ninth District, which is currently represented by fellow Democrat Rep. Yvette Clarke. He has also criticized the new maps for potentially forcing four Black members into competitive primaries.

“The draft redistricting map viciously targets historic Black representation in NY,” Jeffries said. “This tactic would make Jim Crow blush.”

Democrats spent the last decade arguing that gerrymandering is unethical and should be stopped after Republicans drew maps that heavily advantaged them based on 2010 data. In the absence of national reforms, Democrats couldn’t afford not to gerrymander in places like New York, and they embraced it across the nation this year. Doing that is an inherent gamble — courts have a history of getting involved. Now it looks like Democrats might lose that gamble, and leave a slew of high-profile incumbents in a lurch.

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