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Special Master Carves Up NY’s Congressional Seats, Suppressing The Black Vote & Black Representation

The weakening of the Black Vote to undo accomplishments in Black Representation

The Democrats inauspicious attempt at gerrymandering has officially backfired as new map drawn could possibly weaken both the Black Vote and Black Representation in Congress, in a time where the Democrats are hanging on to a slim majority heading into the midterm elections. Westchester County is not immune to the fallout. For the first time we have two sitting African-American Congressmen in the lower Hudson Valley who the newly drawn map potentially put in the same district! The new August 23rd democratic primary may also lead to a lower voter turnout, which could gravely hurt Dems statewide.

The newly redrawn New York congressional map didn’t just erase the political advantage the party hoped to gain through gerrymandering before state courts stepped in to stop them. It also set New York’s Democratic incumbents against each other in a zero-sum game of survival — which will soon see some of them brawling in primaries and left others pleading with the court-appointed map-drawer to change course, Politico reported, Monday evening.

In a court filing on Monday, Special Master Jonathan Cervas said his version of New York’s political boundaries will create at least eight competitive races across the entire state, as opposed to just three competitive races using the maps created by the Democratic-controlled state legislature. The changes could have a major impact on the balance of the House of Representatives.

Cervas’ draft map could be very devastating for House Dems. Here’s a brief breakdown, five districts now lean right for the Republicans. NY congressional districts 2, 3, 18, 19 and 22 are all tossups now. While CDs 4 and 17 could be won by the GOP in what could be a wave year in the upcoming midterms. That puts twelve of the now twenty-six NY Congressional Districts in play for the GOP, making the Dems control of the House increasingly fragile.

The special master’s proposal released early Monday afternoon irritated the Democratic caucus. Multiple Democrats called it an affront to established communities of interest, particularly diverse communities in New York City. House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries released a digital ad slamming the map.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08) – whose home was drawn out of his own district – issued the following statement regarding the draft Congressional District maps released by Jonathan Cervas, the Special Master chosen by Judge Patrick McAllister to redraw the maps created by a supermajority vote in the State Legislature. 

“The draft map released by a Judicial Overseer in Steuben County and unelected, out-of-town Special Master, both of whom happen to be white men, is part of a vicious national pattern targeting districts represented by members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The Court blatantly ignores the comprehensive testimony of Brooklyn residents, civic leaders and stakeholders who made clear that the communities of interest that presently constitute the 8th and 9th congressional districts should be kept together, as was the case in maps submitted by good government groups like Common Cause, civil rights groups like the Unity Coalition and even the Independent Redistricting Commission.

This draft map dilutes the Black population in the 8th and 9th congressional districts in a manner wildly inconsistent with the constitutional mandate that communities of color should be put into position to elect the candidate of their choice. The Court, shockingly, uses a sledgehammer to break into pieces the majority Black and historic neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant, once represented by the legendary Shirley Chisholm. The legacy Chisholm district was created in 1968 pursuant to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, with the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood at its core. Apparently, the Steuben County Court either doesn’t know this history or doesn’t care, notwithstanding voluminous public testimony.

After the 2020 election, the voters of New York State sent seven Black members to the House of Representatives, an all-time high. Right-wing activists, such as the Republican expert who clearly influenced the Court in this matter, have been trying to undue this incredible accomplishment of Black representation ever since. Apparently, Republican operatives and conservative activists have found a sympathetic audience as a result of the broken process set forth by the New York Court of Appeals. The draft map draws four Black Members of Congress into the same district, a tactic that would make Jim Crow blush.

The right-wing Court in Steuben County has released a map that is unacceptable, unconscionable and unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals needlessly stripped away the ability of the elected representatives of the New York State legislature to cure any defect it claimed existed. Instead, a flawed process was put into place which has now led to a flawed result. Shame on everyone involved who have brought us to this point.”

This is reminiscent of the years between 1863 and 1877 where we saw tremendous gains for Black Americans, including the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. But the period was also turbulent — shaped by political violence aimed at reestablishing White authority.

An article on the History Channel website reminds us of this country’s long history (pun intended) of voter suppression and disenfranchisement to undo the incredible accomplishment of Black Representation.

Following the ratification in 1870 of the 15th Amendment, which barred states from depriving citizens the right to vote based on race, southern states began enacting measures such as poll taxes, literacy tests, all-white primaries, felony disenfranchisement laws, grandfather clauses, fraud and intimidation to keep African Americans from the polls. 

Focused on retaining white supremacy in the electoral process, legislators used loopholes in the 15th Amendment to implement a range of measures to disenfranchise Black voters without explicitly characterizing them on the basis of race. 

After more than a half million Black men joined the voting rolls during Reconstruction in the 1870s, helping to elect nearly 2,000 Black men to public office, Mississippi led the way in using measures to circumvent the 15th Amendment. Mississippi’s Jim Crow-era laws then set a precedent for other southern states to use the same tactics to assault Black enfranchisement for nearly a century until the passage of the Voting Rights of 1965.

Meanwhile In Westchester County, It’s Grand Opening, Grand Closing!

While it is still unclear how much will change before the final map is released. The current version shatters Westchester County and the lower Hudson Valley, including placing Congressman Mondaire Jones’ White Plains home in the 16th congressional district with another Democratic incumbent, Congressman Jamaal Bowman – who resides in Yonkers – while putting the bulk of Jones current district – NY17 – in the seat where Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney is now running. Maloney currently serves the 18th congressional district, one of the aforementioned districts that is now a tossup for the GOP.

“I’m really shocked that my district will be obliterated in the way that it was and that they would draw my residence into the same district as Jamaal [Bowman]’s residence,” Jones said.

“You look at the Bowman, Jones, Maloney seats — it just doesn’t make sense,” Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.) – a powerhouse in New York politics, told Politico. Meeks said he’s received a “flood” of phone calls and hopes to convince the state’s mapmaker to make critical changes to the draft.

Jones and Bowman, both Black progressives, won their seats last year succeeding Congressmembers who served for 32 years each. Bowman defeated Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, and Jones won an open seat, that was held by longtime Congresswoman Nita Lowey. Now as quick as the lower Hudson Valley gained two African-American Congressmen – for the first time – it can be over as fast as it came, if this proposed map stands.

Congressman Bowman says while the maps are not yet final, they change the 16th Congressional District to remove much of the Bronx, decreasing the Black voter population by about 17%.

“The whole point of redistricting is to create congressional districts that keep communities of interest together. Unfortunately, the map created by the special master splits NY-16’s historically low-income Bronx communities into three congressional districts and decreases the Black voter population by 17%. This occurred despite an outpouring of testimony urging redistricting officials to protect the Black vote by keeping the northeast Bronx with lower Westchester together. The proposal shows that Co-Op City is mapped into NY-14, Williamsbridge and Baychester into NY-15 and Edenwald kept in NY-16. The map data shows that this directly resulted in the Black voter population declining by 17%. Co-Op City, Williamsbrige and Edenwald are strong communities of interest that must remain together as a unity and connected to lower Westchester. The Black voting power in NY-16 cannot be diluted in favor of more compact but less fair maps,” Bowman shares with Black Westchester. “Edenwald in the Bronx is home to the third largest public housing community in New York State and one of the largest in the country. The Edenwald community is a vulnerable community that is separated in this proposed map from the other densely populated majority Black communities like Co-Op City, Williamsbridge and Baychester, whose voting power helps protect these communities’ specific needs around housing, public safety and poverty alleviation. Similarly, Co-Op city is the largest naturally occurring retirement community in the country predominantly populated by lower income and Black seniors. By splitting these communities, the map further alienates them and perpetuates the opportunity for further historical neglect by the electoral system. These are communities who have been kept together in maps for decades for good reason and with good intention. Their voting power is directly tied to their lives, and they deserve a fair chance at electing representatives that take their unique needs into full consideration.”

Also, Black Westchester has been informed the new map has drawn the home of two-term state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi from the open congressional seat in the state’s third district, current held by Congressman Tom Suozzi, who is vacating the seat and running for governor. It was previously redistricted to include the Bronx and Westchester. Biaggi received several endorsements for her bid for Suozzi’s seat including one by fellow progressive Congressman Bowman. But according to state Democratic sources, Biaggi may be now eyeing Bowman’s 16 District seat. We reached out to Sen. Biaggi for confirmation but received no response from her or her campaign.

This is still only a draft, there is still a narrow window to let your voice be heard. Public comments can be made by sending an email to Bwise@nycourts.gov, Steuben_superior@nycourts.gov and cervas@cmu.edu until Friday, May 20th when the newly drawn districts will become final.

“Now, I only have one message for NY-16: I will continue fighting for you, and I will fight to continue to represent you” Rep Bowman continued. “I also hope that voters continue to have their voices heard in every elected official that represents them as I intend to continue and advocate for their needs and the needs of every person in NY-16.”

Stay tuned to Black Westchester for more on this developing story. Look for interview with Congressman Suozzi in his campaign for Governor, Tuesday, May 24th and upcoming interviews with both Congressmen Jamaal Bowman and Mondaire Jones, before the August 23rd Democratic Primary. Rep Hakeem Jeffries is among the other upcoming interviews we are attempting to secure. Also check out our interview with Gubernatorial candidate Jumaane Williams here is you missed it, last week and our special episode on how redistricting will potentially weaken the Black Vote.

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About AJ Woodson (2279 Articles)
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester and Co-Owner of Urban Soul Media Group, the parent company. AJ is a Father, Brother, Author, Writer, Journalism Fellow, Rapper, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian and A Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine and several others.

1 Comment on Special Master Carves Up NY’s Congressional Seats, Suppressing The Black Vote & Black Representation

  1. Stephanie S.Seann // May 18, 2022 at 10:45 PM //

    I was just reading this on your FB page Brother AJ Woodson. They’re dividing us definitely by them battling for the same Congressional seat; because of the 2 different districts 16 and 17.

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