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'Make Jim Crow blush': Black leaders bash draft New York congressional map

Black lawmakers warn the proposed congressional districts would disenfranchise minority voters and dilute their power on Capitol Hill. The map is set to be finalized Friday.
Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., listens at the press conference after the House Democrats caucus meeting in the Capitol on April 5, 2022.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., listens at a news conference after the House Democrats' caucus meeting in the Capitol on April 5.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Top Black members of Congress are irate about a draft New York congressional map that has jeopardized a handful of seats held by Black lawmakers, warning it would disenfranchise minority voters and dilute their power on Capitol Hill.      

The chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio, suggested the latest court-led redistricting process could be “racially motivated.” The chair of the House Democratic Caucus, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, is unleashing campaign ads saying the draft map “takes a sledgehammer to Black districts” and is “enough to make Jim Crow blush.”  

And Black lawmakers are discussing backing lawsuits that would challenge the proposed map for violating federal civil rights laws that protect communities of color.  

“It’s not clear to me what the intent was in drafting a map that has disenfranchised Black voters throughout the city of New York and beyond,” Jeffries said Thursday. “But the effect is to significantly degrade the Black population in four districts and dilute the ability of Black communities to elect the candidate of their choice.”

The last-minute reshuffling of the New York congressional map has caused bedlam in one of the largest congressional delegations — and arguably the most powerful one — on Capitol Hill. 

Earlier, Democratic state legislators had engineered a map designed to pick up House seats and serve as a bulwark against Republican gains in other states. But the courts ruled that the Democrats’ map was unconstitutional, and an outside mapmaker, known as a special master, was appointed to draft a new map, which was released early this week.

After a brief public comment period, the mapmaker, Jonathan Cervas, a fellow with the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, is expected to release his final map Friday.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., had a one-word response when she was asked to describe the mood among New York Democrats: “chaos.”

“It’s a headache,” said another New York Democrat, Rep. Gregory Meeks, a Black Caucus member and prominent committee chairman who is also the Queens Democratic Party boss. 

“This special master and overseer is out of their minds. They don’t know anything about the city of New York, They have no clue about the connectedness of neighborhoods, about civil-rights-[protected] districts,” Meeks said. “It’s just a disaster. It is anti-democratic, in my estimation, to proceed in this matter.”

Under Cervas’ map, two Black Democrats from Brooklyn — Jeffries, often mentioned as Democrats’ future leader, and Rep. Yvette Clarke — would both live in New York’s new 9th Congressional District. Either one, however, could run in the neighboring, heavily Democratic 8th District. It's not unheard of for lawmakers to move their homes after new maps are decided.

The draft map would also have two powerful veteran Democrats square off in a primary in the new 12th District in Manhattan: Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler and Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney. 

Maloney, who represents the 12th, said Nadler never gave her a heads up, even though they have served together for decades. 

“He announced he was running in New York 12 without talking to me. I said, ‘Maybe we should work together on these lawsuits and everything,’ and he said he thought it was a waste of time,” Maloney said in an interview. “So once he announced he was running in New York 12, I announced I was running in New York 12.”

But the new district causing the most anxiety and tearing Democrats apart along racial lines is the 17th District in the Hudson Valley. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the head of the Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, said he plans to jump from his 18th District to the 17th, which has been represented by first-term Rep. Mondaire Jones, one of the first Black, openly gay members of Congress. 

Sean Patrick Maloney tweeted: "I believe I am the only sitting member who resides in NY17."

The decennial process of drawing new maps often creates confusion, and districts that carry number identifiers don't always include the same voters as before. It's not unusual for a bit of a post-redistricting shuffling to occur.

If the draft map stands, Sean Patrick Maloney, who is white, could face Jones in a member-versus-member primary, or Jones could opt to run against a fellow freshman Black Democrat, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, in the 16th — which neither wants to happen.

Jones said Thursday he didn’t know why anyone had announced what district they’re running in given that the map isn’t final. Other Black and Hispanic Democrats were less diplomatic, ripping Sean Patrick Maloney for running against a fellow incumbent when it is his job as chair of the DCCC to protect incumbents.

“Two Black men who worked hard to represent their communities, who fight hard for their constituents in Congress and advocate for dire needs in our communities should not be pitted against each other all because Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney wants to have a slightly easier district for himself,” Bowman said in a statement. 

“The Democratic Party should not tolerate or condone those who try to dismantle and tear down Black power in Congress. … The solution is simple. Congressman Maloney should run in his own district. I’ll be running in mine.”

Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive ally of both Jones and Bowman, called on Sean Patrick Maloney to resign as DCCC chairman if he runs against Jones.  

“Given the resources that he has at his helm, it creates a conflict of interest,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “And I believe that if he’s going to enter in a primary and challenge another Democratic member, then he should step aside from his responsibilities of the DCCC.”

She said it was “terrible” and “hypocritical” and “shameful” that a chair of the House election arm, who asks Democrats to make sacrifices for the good of the majority, “cannot seem to take his redistricting on the chin and be able to run in a district that is still 70 percent his” and instead wants to challenge the only Black lawmaker to represent Westchester County, with Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-N.Y., leaving to become lieutenant governor.

Dave Wasserman, the senior House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said the upheaval in New York makes an already grim situation for Democrats this fall even worse.

“By striking down Democrats’ gerrymander, the New York Court of Appeals probably drove a stake through whatever remaining chance they had to keep the House,” Wasserman said. “But now, on top of that, the chair of the DCCC could be locked in a nasty member-versus-member primary until late August. There’s almost no precedent for things getting so bad for one side.”

The topic of the draft map took up a huge part of the Congressional Black Caucus’ weekly meeting Wednesday. Beatty said she asked Jeffries to walk members through the map’s impact on Black Caucus members and minority voters.

The courts “have thrown the districts into disarray,” she said, adding: “I don’t think it’s by happenstance that it narrows our margin. What everybody knows from watching the last few cycles, when Black folks galvanize, get people registered to vote, we win." 

Meeks, the Queens boss, said he supports good-government and civil-rights groups’ suing to block the map.

Asked whether Black leaders will join any future lawsuits, Beatty replied: “I am sure Friday night Hakeem and I will have a conversation once this is resolved.”