Publicly, Democrats say that’s not true. “We absolutely want it to work,” Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez, the chair of a legislative task force in charge of reapportionment, told me. Privately, however, multiple members told me they expect legislators to draw the maps.
Neither the commission nor the legislature can begin its work in earnest until the Census Bureau releases data from the 2020 count, which was hampered by the pandemic. New York is expected to lose at least one of its 27 House seats, possibly two. Democrats would want to ensure that both seats come from the Republican delegation, which currently has eight members. That effort became easier last week when Republican Representative Tom Reed, who had been accused of groping a 25-year-old lobbyist, announced that he would not seek reelection. Legislators could merge Reed’s district with another GOP-leaning seat and create a Democratic-leaning district elsewhere.
Democrats could also pack more upstate Republicans into Representative Elise Stefanik’s geographically enormous district in New York’s North Country, making the Republicans in neighboring districts, Representatives Claudia Tenney or John Katko, more vulnerable. In New York City, Democrats could target the lone congressional seat held by a Republican, Representative Nicole Malliotakis of Staten Island, by adding to the district more liberal areas of Manhattan or Brooklyn. And on Long Island, an aggressive redistricting map could threaten Representative Lee Zeldin, a Republican who has already announced he’s exploring a run for governor next year.
For national Democratic leaders—who include New York Representatives Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair of the DCCC, and Hakeem Jeffries, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus—the overriding objective is to have state lawmakers secure every seat they can and preserve the party’s majority in the House. But Democratic members of the New York delegation undoubtedly will have their own political concerns: They may be reluctant to give up certain loyal constituencies or take on more Republican voters that would force them to campaign harder for reelection.
Internal party politics also come into play. Democratic leaders could use the redistricting process to protect or punish certain members, or to insulate themselves from primary challenges. Speculation is already circulating that some Democrats could target the New York City district of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who hasn’t ruled out a 2022 challenge to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. This seems unlikely, however: Ocasio-Cortez has powerful allies in the legislature who will probably protect her seat.
Then there’s the matter of who will be governor of New York next year when it’s time to sign the new maps into law. Cuomo, who’s facing numerous accusations of sexual harassment, has refused calls to resign by most of the Democratic leadership in the state. Nobody is sure whether he can survive both an impeachment inquiry and an investigation by the state attorney general. “The New York Democratic Party is neither democratic nor a party, so predicting is nearly impossible,” one former legislator told me with a laugh.