Examiner Plus

Back in the Game

News Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

We are part of The Trust Project

High school sports in Westchester are slowly rebounding from their long COVID timeout

Good morning! Today is Monday, April 25, and you are reading today’s section of Examiner+, a digital newsmagazine serving Westchester, Putnam, and the surrounding Hudson Valley.

By Jim Roberts

New York State 2022 Congressional Districts

Politics is a blood sport. Political power is the currency of the realm, and New York state Democrats are engaged in a court battle to preserve the new Congressional district lines they drew to tighten their grasp on power.

Redistricting occurs in each state following the ten-year census. New election lines are being drawn this year to reflect the change in the 50 states’ population based on the 2020 census.

So with Democrats holding a supermajority in the Assembly and Senate in Albany, New York’s flawed and harshly criticized procedure to redraw district lines came to its inevitable outcome on Feb. 3 with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature.

Such an egregiously biased map was only possible because of the weakness of New York’s new bipartisan redistricting commission. Under state law, the legislature may simply draw its own map after rejecting the commission’s first two proposals. — FiveThirtyEight

The new maps would solidify Democrats’ hold on New York’s congressional delegation for ten years until the next census triggers another redistricting. Democrats will have a majority of registered voters in 22 of the 26 congressional districts.

Republicans, who now hold eight of New York’s 27 seats in Congress, would only have an advantage in the remaining four districts, according to the New York Times.

The effect will most likely be to increase Democrats’ count of New York House seats to 22 from 19 and cut the Republican count down to four from the current eight. (New York loses one seat because its population shifts to other states.)

However, a so-far successful court challenge by upstate Republican voters has created uncertainty about this year’s elections. In the latest ruling on April 21, a state court panel voted 5-3 to declare the new congressional lines unfair to Republican voters in the state.  “We are satisfied that petitioners established beyond a reasonable doubt that the Legislature acted with partisan intent,” the decision stated.

The appeals court however did reinstate the state Senate and Assembly maps that the original ruling disqualified and gave the legislature until April 30 to redraw the congressional map. Fifteen Republican members of the Assembly voted yes on the new district lines. The case will head to the state NY Court of Appeals for a final ruling.

According to one analysis, the newly proposed congressional districts in New York provide Democrats the advantage in 85% of the state’s House seats. There were four districts in 2020 where Biden-Trump votes were within 5 percentage points. Now there are none.

Joe Biden won 60% of the overall New York vote in 2020, and if the congressional seats were split 60/40, Democrats would get 16 seats and Republicans would have 10 compared to the projected Democratic advantage of 22 to 4.

“When an official has a solidly Democratic or a solidly Republican district, they’re more concerned about a primary than they’re concerned about a general election. That tends to enhance the polarization because people tend to adopt more strident, more political polarized positions.” — Former Republican Representative John Faso

Republicans have played the same game over redistricting in several states where they hold the political power, gerrymandering just as fiercely as Democrats in New York. (Gerrymandering is manipulating district lines to advantage a party, named after Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry and his 1812 creative district lines.)

For example, while Trump won 52% of the Texas vote, Republicans who redrew the lines this year are now expected to win 65% of the state’s House delegation in November.

The numbers are critical because control of the U.S. House will be up for grabs this November. Republicans need to flip six seats to gain back control, enabling them to block any initiatives from the Biden White House over the next two years.

“The parties are contributing to more and more one-party districts and taking voters out of the equation. November will be a constitutional formality.” — Former Republican Representative Tom Davis.

The federal Constitution calls on the states to draw congressional districts based on population. In 2014 New York state voters created an independent commission to design the districts.

In theory, the commissioners were a bi-partisan panel split evenly between the Democrats and Republicans that would find compromise and set the borders. Each party appointed five partisan commissioners to the ten-member panel.

The fatal flaw was setting up a system that threw the decision to the legislature if no compromise was struck.

With one party now holding two-thirds of both the Assembly and Senate in Albany, there was no incentive for the majority party commissioners to negotiate with the minority. When the commission stalemated the decision went to the legislature.

The Independent Redistricting Commission has NOT done its job in accordance with a 2014 amendment to the NYS Constitution approved by voters, has wasted taxpayers’ dollars ($4 million budget), and the time of voters and legislators.  The redistricting process in Westchester County has been a political shame and a huge disappointment to our community. — Kathy Meany, President, League of Women Voters of Westchester

So, in the end, the Democratic majorities drew their districts to protect their seats and weaken the Republican seats, as any party in power would do.

“Since New York state’s legislature is dominated by the Democratic party, they chose the Democrat map,” says Dr. Kiki Huckle, a professor of political science at Pace University.

“It’s a really unfortunate version of politics where they say, ‘Well the Republicans have been doing this unabashedly all across the country so in order to shore up the Democratic Party writ large we might as well do the same thing,’ which is unfortunate because that’s not actually the best way to proceed from my perspective.”

The result is the gerrymandered districts that have drawn so much disdain from neutral observers and even some Democrats.

“New Yorkers deserve a transparent and fair redistricting process, and it is shameful that the Legislature has denied them this,” says Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director, League of Women Voters of New York. The new maps also shifts some district lines in both Assembly and Senate in New York but won’t have much impact on keeping the two houses in Albany heavily Democratic.

Gerrymandering is wrong, no matter who does it. It deprives voters of core First Amendment rights and exacerbates political polarization and dysfunction. To quote the conservative Judge Paul Niemeyer, this “cancerous” practice undermines “the fundamental tenets of our form of democracy.” — Duncan Hosie, ACLU

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, headed by Samuel Wang, a Princeton neuroscience professor, analyzes states’ redistricting laws and outcomes.

They gave New York an overall grade of “F,” calling the map “very uncompetitive relative to other maps that could have been drawn” and “Non-compact districts, more county splits than typical.”

Back-of-the-envelope math shows how simple it could be to draw New York’s Congressional district lines in a non-partisan manner. Each district in New York state should contain approximately 730,000 residents based on the 2020 census figures. Westchester has a population of 1 million, so moving Yonkers and Mount Vernon into a district with the northern Bronx would make up one district.

Orange and Rockland counties combined would make up another district and combining Dutchess and two-thirds of Putnam would produce a third evenly divided district. Instead, Congressional District 18 now extends into the Ulster County towns of Rochester and Wawarsing, takes in Peekskill, Cortlandt, North Salem, Lewisboro, Bedford, and Pound Ridge, and carves out central portions of Putnam and Westchester counties into the Congressional District 16.

The towns of Putnam Valley, Carmel, Yorktown, and Somers — strong Republican areas — are awkwardly connected to highly populated Democratic communities, neutralizing these Republican votes. The bisection of Westchester County and added county split into Putnam County creates a district with geographically distanced communities, according to a lawsuit filed by attorneys in upstate Steuben County seeking to overturn the new districts.

The old Congressional District 17 was compactly located in Rockland and Westchester counties. Now, the district reaches from Sullivan County through Orange County into Rockland County, finally crossing the river to connect with Democrat strongholds in Westchester County, including Greenburgh and Mount Kisco. The District also includes part of the strongly Democratic city of White Plains, the lawsuit states.

The changes aren’t likely to impair the re-election efforts of incumbents Jamaal Bowman (16th), Mondaire Jones (17th), and Sean Patrick Maloney (18th). Each of their districts includes a chunk of Westchester.

Supreme Court rulings have left redistricting up to the states except in cases of racial or ethnic bias, so the chances of the districts being overturned by the federal courts are slim. Time is also a factor because primary elections are scheduled for June. The primaries could be pushed back into August if the courts rule new district lines must be drawn.

In a democracy, being able to compromise — and knowing how — is a core skill for governing. Shouting “No Compromise!” may fire up the crowd, but it’s a recipe for failure when it comes to getting things done in office. — Former Congressman Lee Hamilton

While New York state did lose one congressional seat, the 2020 census also revealed the impressive growth in Westchester’s Hispanic population.

For the first time, the Westchester total census population reached over one million residents. The 2020 total of 1,004,457 is a 5.8% increase over the 2010 number of 949,113. That 2020 total population increase of 55,344 county residents over the past decade comes through the increase of Hispanic residents. The Hispanic total rose by 62,302, a 30.1% increase over the ten-year period, bringing the count to 269,334 or 26.8% of the total Westchester population.

In the previous decade, Westchester County’s total population grew by 3% from 923,459 to 949,113 between the 2000 and 2010 Census. That population gain was also largely fueled by an increase in the population who identify as Hispanic or Latino. The Hispanic population grew by 62,908 in 2010 figures, constituting 22% of the county’s population.

Redistricting can increase the voice of minority populations. In California, for example, the new congressional map increases the number majority-Hispanic districts by three, reflecting the growth of the population.

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” — Lord Acton, 1834-1902

Future redistricting in Westchester County and in other parts of New York state could reflect this change in demographics.

“The percentage of the population throughout Westchester that is Latino has really grown tremendously,” says George Oros, a part-time economic consultant for the Town of Cortlandt and a longtime Westchester elected official, serving previously as a member of the County Board of Legislators and its chairman. “Towns would be shrinking if not for the growth of the Latino population.”

That growth in Latino residents is beginning to translate into more elected Latino officials, and the trend will only continue. “When the Latino population has grown from 13% to 21% in Cortlandt, there has to be an increase in influence politically over time,” Oros says.

Jim Roberts is a kind-of retired business editor and writer, and a third-generation resident of Peekskill. He’s a supporter of local journalists who want to keep their communities informed about news in their world.

We hope you’ve enjoyed today’s section of Examiner+. What did you think? We love honest feedback. Tell us: examinerplus@theexaminernews.com

For hyperlocal news coverage of Westchester and Putnam from our four community newspapers, visit our sister site, www.theexaminernews.com

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.