New York Democrats, finally with unified control of Albany during a redistricting cycle, drew the House gerrymander of their dreams earlier this year. It protected each Democratic incumbent while giving several Republicans the boot. In a solid election year for Democrats—not even a smashing one!—the gerrymander would’ve secured Democrats 22 seats in the state to only four for Republicans. (The split after the 2020 election was 19 Democrats to eight Republicans.) This New York gerrymandering alone could have wiped out Republicans’ overall national redistricting advantage.
Ah, those were the days.
The map was tossed out in court in April as a violation of the state constitution’s ban against partisan gerrymandering. The congressional primaries, originally scheduled for late June, were kicked back to August while a court-appointed special master went about devising new districts. Ultimately, the problem for Democrats with that new map wasn’t just that it nixed their plan to ice out a few Republican seats with a few strokes of the pen. (Republicans could actually boost their numbers in New York by a couple of seats this year.) The new lines also created havoc among Democratic incumbents trying to keep their seats. The map debacle has made for some of the election cycle’s most frenzied Democratic primaries, which culminate on Tuesday.
And not every member is coming back.
Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney have each been in Congress for 30 years, and only recently earned their long-sought powerful committee chairmanships (the Judiciary Committee for Nadler, Oversight for Maloney). Traditionally, Nadler’s district has stretched from the Upper West Side of Manhattan into Brooklyn, while Maloney’s has been centered on the Upper East Side. Democrats’ attempted gerrymander preserved this division of power.
But the new map lumped the Upper East and Upper West Sides together. This could have been a sign from the heavens, to at least one of them, that it was time to retire, as several other committee chairs did this cycle. No! They’re running against each other in the new 12th District alongside a previous Maloney challenger, former Obama staffer Suraj Patel, whose strategy has been to point at the two gerontocrats grasping for continued relevancy, and ask, really?
The race has gotten progressively uglier between the two Manhattan stalwarts as the race has gone on—and as Nadler has appeared to pull away. Small-time debates about who’s the One True Progressive (and greater friend to Israel!) have given way, for example, to Maloney questioning whether Nadler is senile. It’s big talk from a candidate who spent a week in the presidential doghouse because she couldn’t answer a question about whether President Joe Biden should run again in 2024 without melting down.
For his part, Nadler opted to run in the 12th District, where he lives and against Maloney, instead of in the new 10th District, where there is technically no local incumbent. That left a swanky open seat covering lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn—prime representative real estate!—for the taking. The entrants flooded in. They included progressive state assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, city council member Carlina Rivera, ex-Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, and Rep. Mondaire Jones (more on him in a sec!). Ex-Mayor Bill de Blasio also originally threw his hat in before dropping out due to low, low polling. Ah, well.
But leading all of the choice progressive candidates in this diverse, deeply blue district is … slightly more moderate Levi Strauss heir and ex-prosecutor Dan Goldman, beneficiary of an endorsement from the New York Times, his family friends’ paper. Goldman’s ascent to a slim lead has progressives furious. Their best ally in the closing stretch of the campaign might be Donald Trump, who cheekily “endorsed” Goldman in the Democratic primary as revenge for Goldman’s role as a committee counsel during the first Trump impeachment. Mondaire Jones, at least, has tried to make hay of this and convince Democratic primary voters that Trump’s “endorsement” was done at face value.
What, you ask, is Mondaire Jones doing in Lower Manhattan? He was elected to represent, and currently represents, the 17th District covering much of Rockland and Westchester counties outside the city. When the new map came out, though, his neighboring representative, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, decided he wanted to run in the new 17th District, a suspiciously safer seat than his current 18th District. The power move put pressure on Jones: Did he want to take on Maloney, who happened to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a primary? What about challenge fellow progressive Rep. Jamaal Bowman in the 16th? Quit? He announced, instead, that he would relocate to the open 10th seat with some story about how the seat had always been welcoming to outsiders.
Maloney’s move, meanwhile, pissed off progressives enough that he earned himself a challenger in progressive state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi. But he’s maintained a polling lead, according to both campaigns’ internals, during the summer.
The Democratic candidate who’s taken on Maloney’s abandoned 18th District for November, meanwhile, is Ulster County executive and veteran Pat Ryan. Would you like to know something weird about Pat Ryan? On the same day as his primary in the new 18th District, he’s running in a special election for the last few months of the old 19th District, which went vacant when Rep. Anthony Delgado liberated himself from Congress to serve as New York lieutenant governor. It’s that special election Tuesday between Ryan and Republican Marc Molinaro, in a very competitive old 19th District, that forecasters will be watching for tea leaves about the political environment post-Dobbs.
Elsewhere: Carl Paladino, a rich crank whose most recent hit involves saying that Attorney General Merrick Garland should be “executed” (he was being facetious guys!) is running against state GOP chair Nick Langworthy in a district where the winner of the Republican primary is virtually guaranteed a seat. Paladino has the endorsement of No. 3 House Republican Elise Stefanik, whose friends in House GOP leadership absolutely love to see headlines about “House leadership-endorsed Carl Paladino” saying that Adolf Hitler “is the kind of leader we need today.”
Little of the drama above, which just scratches the surface of Tuesday’s statewide festivities, would be happening if Democrats had gotten away with their darling gerrymander. In that alternate dimension, to each Democratic incumbent, a fiefdom; to the Democrats in Congress, a few extra seats. Instead, New York Democrats ended up with Nadler and Maloney waging the War of Central Park and Jones shopping the state for a narrative. State constitutions are a pesky thing.