Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
Call them the bicounty congressmen.
Under new district lines drawn by a court-appointed special master last week, veteran Suffolk Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) could end up representing more of Nassau than his home county, while longtime Nassau Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) could see his district become predominantly Suffolk.
For the past decade, about 20 percent of King's district has been in Suffolk -- mainly heavily Republican shoreline areas of Babylon and Islip as far east as Great River. Under the master's lines, Nassau GOP officials estimate 75 percent of King's district would be in Suffolk -- including almost all of Babylon and Islip towns -- which by voter registration tilts Democratic.
Israel, whose district includes Syosset and Plainview, would -- under the master lines -- take in the bulk of northern Nassau and even go into Queens. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights), who now represents that area, plans to run in an adjoining Queens district. Israel also would keep Huntington and has a sliver of Smithtown.
The once-a-decade redrawing of lines has been tangled in fights in Albany over whether the process should be turned over to a nonpartisan group, as well as internal wrangling over New York City districts, that have stalled a deal. That impasse has led to lawsuits and the special master's lines -- which could still be jettisoned if state lawmakers can hammer out an acceptable plan.
However, time is short -- the first day for congressional candidates to circulate nominating petitions is March 20. Legislative leaders have vowed to have a deal this week, but its dimensions are undetermined.
Richard Schaffer, the Suffolk Democratic chairman, said he hopes state lawmakers can still reach a compromise. "It just makes more sense to have Steve Israel be a Suffolk congressman with a majority of his district in this county," Schaffer said. "I just think a special master doesn't take into account all the important political . . . and community considerations."
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, objected to how the master's plan affects Israel and King. They said it "needlessly flips" what had been north-south districts to ones that run east-west across the north and south shores. "The change dramatically realigns existing districts without any basis in traditional redistricting principles."
But Desmond Ryan, a veteran Albany lobbyist, said making King and Israel bicounty lawmakers will broaden their approach. "What it does is create a synergy for issues that impact the whole region instead of just concern for their home county," Ryan said.
King said he has "no problem" with the proposed lines nor any political fallout by moving far beyond his longtime Nassau political base. He said he has built local ties in the Suffolk part of his district. "For the last 10 years, I've already been dealing with officials in Islip and Babylon along with all the community groups," he said.
Schaffer does not see an immediate electoral threat to King or Israel because whatever new lines emerge, it would be hard for a new challenger to mount a credible campaign. But if the master's lines stand, the party leader said, "The district only becomes better for us. In two or four years, I could see strong candidates surfacing."
Some party activists see a possible immediate challenge from former Islip Supervisor Phil Nolan, who narrowly lost re-election last fall. Nolan declined to comment.
The biggest impact could be on Deer Park Republican Steve Labate, whom the GOP has already tapped to take on Israel. He does not live in the newly drawn district.
"I guess I have to wait and see how things shake out," said Labate, who could still run but in areas beyond where he is known. "It's tough to say what the future holds."