New York’s top court handed Democrats a long-coveted victory on Tuesday: the power to redraw the state’s 26 congressional districts before the 2024 elections.
The party is widely expected to use it to target as many as six Republican-held swing seats. Even subtle shifts in the lines from Syracuse to Long Island could make it harder for Republicans to hold onto their seats and a three-seat House majority.
But arriving at a final map may prove more difficult than it appears. A bipartisan commission will get the first crack at drawing it, before the Democratic-dominated State Legislature. New York’s courts showed last year they were eager to enforce a state ban on gerrymandering. And Democrats may clash over their own priorities.
“You could see Republicans’ districts being just that much harder to hold onto,” said Tim Persico, who oversaw Democrats’ campaign operation during New York’s 2022 redistricting mayhem. “But I don’t think we’re going to see huge, massive changes to the map.”
Here’s the list of Republicans whose fates may rest in mapmakers’ hands.
Brandon Williams in Syracuse
Representative Brandon Williams, a former nuclear submarine officer representing Syracuse and outlying rural areas, may be the most at risk of six freshman Republicans. President Biden won his district by eight points in 2020; Mr. Williams prevailed by less than one point.
Democrats already have a good shot at flipping the seat. By incorporating Ithaca, a liberal college town in the Finger Lakes region, into the district, they could make it almost unwinnable for Mr. Williams. But the move could be risky: The party tried to do just that as part of a gerrymander last year, and it was struck down in court.
Marc Molinaro (and Pat Ryan) in the Hudson Valley
Moving Ithaca could also create a new political headache for Democrats. The city is currently part of a sprawling upstate district represented by Marc Molinaro, a moderate Republican. Without Ithaca, a district that voted for President Biden by four points would probably become safely Republican.
Mapmakers could solve that problem by extending Mr. Molinaro’s district northward into part of metropolitan Albany, a solid blue area. Or, they could simply decide to write off the seat as red and cannibalize other liberal areas to help shore up his neighbor, Representative Pat Ryan, the only New York Democrat who won a swing seat last year.
Mike Lawler and the Westchester Question
Representative Mike Lawler has been a thorn in Democrats’ side. He won a Biden+10 district that includes parts of Westchester County in 2022 by defeating the party’s national campaign chairman by less than one point.
Democrats may soon get their payback. Even small changes, like dropping the district’s lower edge a few miles south to incorporate liberal areas like White Plains or the Hudson River towns of Irvington and Dobbs Ferry, could shift the overall district out of reach.
Mr. Lawler predicted he could still win but said that mapmakers would have a hard time locking in overly partisan lines.
“If they do anything untoward, it’s going back to court,” he said.
A Democrat Could Be at Risk, Too
Changes to Mr. Lawler’s district could have a cascading impact on his congressional neighbor, Representative Jamaal Bowman. Normally that would not matter because Mr. Bowman’s seat is safely Democratic. But the left-leaning incumbent is facing a formidable primary challenge from Westchester County Executive George Latimer, and the composition of the district could tip the balance.
Mr. Bowman wants Co-Op City, a large apartment complex in the Bronx with a substantial Black population, returned to his district. He lost it when a court-appointed special master drew the map last year.
On the other hand, his path could become more perilous if mapmakers swap, say, the Hudson River towns for more moderate parts of Mr. Lawler’s district.
Adding to the intrigue: The Democratic chairman of the redistricting commission is Mr. Latimer’s deputy and has a longstanding interest in succeeding him as county leader.
The Long Island Three
There are three seats on Long Island that favor Democrats on paper. Republicans won all of them in 2022 as the suburban stronghold moved rightward over concerns about crime and affordability.
That leaves Democrats with a dilemma: try to make it easier to flip one or two seats, or improve all three by a lesser degree.
“My eardrums are imploding from all the chatter,” said Steve Israel, a former Democrat House leader from Long Island.
The easiest to change would be the Queens and Nassau County seat held by George Santos until he was expelled from Congress. The Legislature’s gerrymandered map, rejected by the courts last year, had accomplished that by stretching the district across Long Island Sound. But some Democrats said to expect smaller shifts this time: perhaps pulling in neighboring communities represented by Anthony D’Esposito or Nick LaLota.
At least one Republican appears to be safe for now. Democrats privately said they would be shocked to see the party mess with Representative Nicole Malliotakis’s Staten Island district after being ridiculed for trying to combine it last year with ultraliberal Park Slope, Brooklyn.