October 18, 2021

Congressional redistricting: How does it work?

One might expect Tim Perfetti and Connie White to disagree often. Perhaps they do; White is the Cortland County Republican chairwoman; Perfetti is her Democratic counterpart.

But they agree Cortland County is best served when a single legislator represents it, rather than being divided among districts.

“What would be good for Cortland County, no matter what party, is that we are in the same congressional district,” White said in April, echoing a similar comment by Perfetti.

That’s not necessarily the case in draft re-districting maps the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission released this week. The 10-member bipartisan panel could not reach consensus, so it released two options for redistricting New York based on the 2020 Census and its demographic shifts.

The “Names” plan was heavily favored by the Republicans, and the “Letters” plan supported by Democrats. At the Congressional level, where the state loses a seat, reducing the House delegation to 26 representatives from 27, the Democratic-backed Letters plan cuts up what was the 23rd District, represented by the retiring Rep. Tom Reed (R-Corning) in such a way that the ripples would push several upstate Republicans into primaries with each other, while maintaining Democratic strongholds downstate.

The Republican-backed Names plan does the reverse: maintaining upstate districts while forcing a Democratic primary for a Long Island seat and pushing several Manhattan and Brooklyn seats toward the GOP.

If the commission cannot reach a compromise, the issue would be pushed to the state Legislature, which could pick either plan, or re-draw the boundaries on its own. Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses.

Each option had three permutations: Congress, the state Senate, and the state Assembly. In all of those permutations, only the Assembly plans saw both options keep Cortland County contiguous in one district.

Here’s how it breaks down:

CONGRESS
The Names plan would include all of Cortland County in a district that would include Cortland, Madison, Onondaga, Cayuga and Wayne, and parts of Chenango counties.

In that district, Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) would be the incumbent as the district of Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford) would push east and north.

The Letters plan, which divides Reed’s district, would see Cortland split between two districts — one of which would force a primary between Tenney and Katko.

That district would include Cortland and Cortlandville in a district that includes Tompkins, much of Cayuga, Onondaga and east along the Interstate 90 corridor to Utica. That’s where Tenney would have to face Katko. While she has a power base around her New Hartford home, and Cayuga County trends Republican, Tompkins is heavily Democratic and Katko’s base of support centers around Syracuse.

The rest of Cortland County would be included in a district that includes Tioga, Broome, Chenango, Otsego, Delaware, parts of Madison, east toward Schenectady and southeast into the Catskills. Much of that district would see Rep. Anthony Delgado (D-Schenectady) as its incumbent.

STATE SENATE The Republican-backed Names plan would place Cortland County in a district that includes Chenango, Otsego, Madison and parts of Onondaga counties. Sen. Peter Oberacker (R-Schenevus) would still be an incumbent in that district, but its population base would shift radically north, lopping off much of the Catskills that Oberacker now represents.

However, the Democratbacked Letters plan would divide the county. The northwest corner — Cortland, Cortlandville, Homer, Virgil Scott and Preble — would be included in a district that stretches from Elmira to Lake Ontario, looping west around Tompkins County but jutting east through the southern part of Cayuga County. Sen. Tom O’Mara (RElmira) would be incumbent in that region.

The rest of the county would be included with a district that includes Chenango, Otsego, Delaware and stretches as far southeast as Deerpark in Orange County, where Oberacker would be an incumbent.

ASSEMBLY

The two Assembly options are the only options where both plans keep Cortland County in one district, but neither would be represented by first-term Assembly Member Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca).

The Letters plan would include Cortland, Madison and the northern portion of Chenango. It would go as far as Oneida, but not so far as Utica. No incumbent would live in that proposed district.

The Names plan would be more compact. It would include Cortland County, southeastern Cayuga County, including Locke and Moravia, and a swath of southeastern Onondaga County stretching into the suburbs south and to the east of Syracuse.

Assembly Member John Lemondes (R-Lafayette) would be in that district.

However, that district would take the Republican-leaning Cayuga County out of Lemondes neighborhood, and push the more Democratic-influenced city of Cortland into it.

ANYBODY’S GUESS

However, all that presumes the commission would agree on one option: either the Names plan or the Letters plan.

The Independent Redistricting Commission still has 14 meetings and more than three months to reach a compromise. If it does, that plan will be forwarded to the Legislature.

If it doesn’t, it must forward either the plan that received the most votes of the 10-person panel, or all its plans and the data on which they were based. At that point, the politicians would set the boundaries.