By Carol Tannenhauser
Come January 1, 2023, when the new U.S. Congress is seated, if you live between West 59th Street and (roughly) West 84th, from Columbus Avenue to Central Park West, you will no longer be part of Congressional District 10, which covers the rest of the Upper West Side.
You have been redistricted.
Starting with the primary and general elections in June and November, 2022, you will be voting in District 12, your new district, currently represented by Carolyn Maloney. (She emphasizes that you will be physically voting in the same place you always have.) Maloney has spent the last 30 years in Congress with your current District 10 representative, Jerrold Nadler. “Jerry and I are allies,” she told WSR in a recent interview.
That alliance is causing Maloney perception problems. The New York Times reported that she and Nadler were involved in the reconfiguration of their districts, removing a strip of the Upper West Side from its roots and geography and aligning it with its eastern neighbors for political reasons.
“The NY Times is incorrect,” Rep. Nadler’s District Director Robert Gottheim wrote to WSR in an email. “We were not involved in the drawing of the lines at all. That’s their [The New York Times’] interpretation. All districts needed to grow, because NY lost one Congressional district. Rep. Nadler’s district could have grown in Manhattan rather than Brooklyn. The legislature made the decision to alter the districts in this way.”
Still, redistricting is shaping up to be an issue in the upcoming District 12 Democratic primary facing Rep. Maloney on June 28.
“It is the issue of the race,” said Suraj Patel, 38, one of her challengers, in a telephone call.
This will be Patel’s third run against Maloney; in 2020 he lost to her by only 2,700 votes out of 105,000. He contends that Nadler and Maloney influenced the redrawing of the district to improve Maloney’s chances for re-election, drawing in groups likely to vote for her, i.e. Upper West Siders living close to Central Park, and eliminating those not likely to, i.e. more progressive, young and Latino sections of the district in Queens and Brooklyn.
Patel sent WSR two maps (below). The first shows the old and new District 12. The green area represents the new district borders; the old borders are the black lines that surround most of the green area, which has clearly shifted further west into Manhattan.
The second map (below) shows the districts won by Maloney (yellow) and Patel (green) in the 2020 primary. “Every single precinct that we won was almost surgically excised from the new district,” Patel said.
“I had a law professor who always said, ‘call me old fashioned, but I think voters should choose their representatives and not the other way around,” he continued. “It doesn’t take a leap of logic to figure out what happened here. Incumbency protection in New York has always been a major part of the gerrymanders.” [Gerrymandering is the redrawing of district lines to achieve political gain.]
Maloney said in our interview that she had “nothing to do with that. I have consistently respected the independence of the commission and the legislature in the redistricting process. I’m proud to represent all parts of my current district — I’m sad to lose parts of the district I have represented for decades, but welcome the opportunity to serve new constituents in the recently drawn NY-12.”
Rana Abdelhamid is running for the District 12 seat for the first time. She told WSR in a telephone interview that her campaign knew from the start that Rep. Maloney “wanted to bring in more of Manhattan and less of Queens and Brooklyn….We’re ready for it,” she said. “From the conversations we’ve been having with people who are part of the new district they are actually undecided. They’re open-minded and want to hear our story.”
Like Patel’s, it is the story of a child of immigrants — in Abdelhamid’s case from Egypt, in Patel’s from India — who gained access to the American dream through their parents’ hard work and education. Between them, they have attended Stanford, Harvard, and Cambridge Universities, among others. Patel is a lawyer who lectures at NYU on business ethics. Abdelhamid works for Google.
Abdelhamid, 28, wasn’t born when Maloney, 76, first ran for Congress. She grew up in Astoria, Queens, in the 12th District.
“Ever since I started running in this race, everybody asks, “Isn’t District 12 just the Upper East Side?” Abdelhamid said. “It’s really challenging to hear, having lived in the district almost my whole life. There are people who have lived in this district for three decades, and have not been acknowledged or represented. The story of this district needs to change so we understand that.”
Abdelhamid is backed by the Justice Democrats, the group that fueled Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s bid for Congress. AOC beat ten-term incumbent Joe Crowley in the 14th Congressional District in what was the biggest upset of 2018.
Thirty years ago, in 1992, there was another stunning upset in the 14th District. A young, progressive woman beat a 14-year moderate Republican male incumbent named Bill Green. The progressive was Carolyn Maloney.
“The progressive case against Carolyn Maloney,” Abdelhamid has been quoted as saying, “is that Carolyn Maloney is not a progressive.”
“The progressive wing is challenging me,” Maloney said. “I am their top number one target — probably because I’m effective and pro Israel. I’m just as progressive as they are, but I’m a Progressive with a record to run on with real achievements that have helped people. They want me to shut up, get out of the way, and give it to them. But they haven’t done anything.”
“The new voters in the district are going to be new voters for the current representative, too,” said Abdelhamid. “So we have an opportunity to make our case. The sense we’re getting on the ground is that people haven’t written us off, they’re open minded, and willing to listen.”
“I fundamentally believe that democracy requires fair competition,” Patel said. “I think that you’re going to see a clamoring for fresh voices, with innovative ideas to benefit the district and the country. I think people are tired of these kinds of games. I consider myself an Obama Democrat, a generational change candidate, a pragmatic progressive who’s had practical experience in the real world.”
Was there undue influence in the redrawing of District 12? WSR reached out to the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) to find out if and how political pressure might be exerted on those responsible for drawing new district maps. We also contacted two state senators and two assemblymembers on the task force, asking directly if Nadler and Maloney had influenced the lines of their new districts.
Mike Murphy, the communications director for the New York Senate Democratic Majority, provided an overview of how redistricting played out in NYS this year, explaining that an independent commission had failed to agree upon a map, “and the process was pushed to the legislature. We then were able to use the public record and suggestions to draw the maps in a fair manner,” Murphy said. “After decades of Republican gerrymandering New York finally has maps that represent the great diversity of New York.”
“As for your question,” he concluded, “we had no contact or input from any elected officials.”
There are a total of eight candidates registered to run for the new District 12 congressional seat. With 55,000 votes — and a constituency known for turning out — the Upper West Side strip could have a significant impact on the outcome of the race. WSR will be following the campaigns and candidates closely, and providing profiles and platforms soon.