New York Democrats are now faced with the consequences of winning.
Rep.-elect Kathy Hochul’s special election victory this week casts a cloud of uncertainty over a high-stakes redistricting process that could ultimately endanger her Democratic neighbors.
Members are reluctant to speak publicly about their fears, but they are consumed by the redistricting implications, according to a high-level Hill staffer. The only thing clear at this point, however, is that the Empire State will lose two Congressional seats in 2012 thanks to population losses.
And while Washington Democrats celebrated Hochul’s improbable victory in a heavily conservative district, the consensus about New York’s redistricting winners and losers has been turned on its head. Downstate Democrats, who were bracing for the likelihood that they would lose a seat, are now looking to western New York for a reprieve.
Hochul’s seat now becomes a potential target, but so do the seats of her neighbors to the west, Democratic Reps. Brian Higgins and Louise Slaughter.
“Waking up this morning, I think that Higgins and Slaughter have a lot to be nervous about,” the high-level staffer told Roll Call on Wednesday. “You’d have to be Leonardo da Vinci to draw a map that potentially gives all three a chance to run without a primary.”
There is time, of course, for the outlook to change again, given that the redistricting process likely won’t be finalized until next spring.
The new map will be drawn by the state Legislature, in which Republicans and Democrats each control one chamber. That sets up the expectation that the two districts eliminated will include one from each party. And given that Democrats largely occupy the urban centers in Manhattan and the southern part of the state and Republicans have better numbers upstate, Members have assumed the Democratic seat would disappear from downstate and the Republican from upstate.
But that was before Hochul’s Tuesday victory.
“There’s no doubt that this screws up the conventional wisdom that existed until yesterday,” said a top Democratic operative in New York with connections to several Members.
It’s not that the expectation for Republicans will change dramatically, according to the operative. Just two Republicans serve downstate: the well-connected Rep. Peter King and freshman Rep. Michael Grimm, who represents a Staten Island district packed with Republicans. Neither Congressman is thought to be in danger.
“The question is where does the Democrat come from,” the operative said. “The conventional wisdom that the Democrat was going to come from downstate — this changes that.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.