ALBANY — The new map for state Senate districts in New York gives Democrats a chance to cement their hold on the chamber for years to come, analysts say.
At least in theory.
Already holding a commanding 43-20 advantage in the Senate, the new boundaries for legislative districts could allow Democrats to gain even more seats. Changes in districts on Long Island, the Capital Region and the Rochester area made them more favorable to Democrats in the fall elections.
"What they’re doing with the lines is reducing the chance they’ll ever go back in time, that the Republicans will ever regain control," said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic consultant. He spoke after the State Legislature last week approved new boundaries for all 63 Senate and 150 Assembly districts as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process.
Republicans saw it similarly.
"This is a move to cement power," Sen. Edward Rath (R-Amherst) complained when casting his vote on the Senate floor. The GOP vowed to sue, contending that Democrats didn’t follow the state’s constitutional process. Experts have said courts increasingly have left partisan redistricting alone. A Republican-backed lawsuit already has been filed over the state’s new congressional map.
Sheinkopf warned that Democratic gains in November aren’t assured because Republicans have momentum based on national political currents and the 2021 town and county elections in New York. But most agreed Democrats have strengthened themselves with the new districts.
And the new maps underscore, once again, the consequences of the 2018 "blue wave" that drove Republicans out of power and eventually led to a Democratic "supermajority," or two-thirds majority, in 2020.
"Those events changed the trajectory of this issue," said Doug Muzzio, a Baruch College political scientist.
With a supermajority, Democrats have the power to override a governor’s veto — 42 votes are necessary. Perhaps more importantly, for the first time in decades, Democrats drew the new lines for Senate districts, not Republicans.
Those new lines were signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul, along with new boundaries for the state Assembly and New York’s congressional delegation.
In the Assembly, which Democrats have controlled for decades, changes were relatively minor.
In the Senate, Dems sought to undo lines drawn by Republicans in the last redistricting in 2012.
For instance, no longer do all nine Senate districts wholly contained on Long Island feature a majority of white residents. Two districts, going forward, will be "minority majority" districts.
One is the 6th Senate District, currently held by Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown). Instead of running east-west from Farmingdale into Hempstead and Garden City, it now is more north-south, reaching the Sound Shore communities of Glen Cove, Bayville and others. Demographically, it went from 52% white residents to 49%.
Even bigger changes were made to the 3rd Senate District in Suffolk County, held by Sen. Alexis Weik (R-Sayville). It no longer contains shore communities west of Patchogue but now includes all of Brentwood. It went from 53% white and 32% Hispanic to 41.4% Hispanic and 41.1% white.
That’s just part of the changes.
With upstate losing population share to downstate, New York City essentially gets two more Senate seats. Two seats running through parts of Rensselaer, Schenectady and Saratoga counties are now Democratic-leaning instead of Republican.
Rochester no longer is chopped up in many pieces so as to be parts of several suburban districts.
Republicans complained loudly during the redistricting vote.
"They basically turned my district upside down," Sen. Jim Tedisco (R-Schenectady) told Spectrum News after the redistricting vote. His district had been mostly Schenectady and Saratoga counties but now runs west and overlaps with another Republican, Sen. Peter Oberacker (R-Schenevus).
During the debate on the redistricting bill, Republicans said they would challenge the "gerrymandered" lines in court. They also said past redistricting efforts, controlled by the GOP, can’t be used to justify this one.
"The justification you’re using is ‘You did this to us 10 years ago and 20 years ago and 30 years ago,' " said Sen. Dan Stec (R-Queensbury). "But two wrongs don’t make a right."
"Nobody is saying two wrongs make a right," replied Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria). "What’s happening is we’re repairing the damage done 10 years ago and 20 years ago … You’re not arguing for the communities and what they need. You’re arguing for incumbent protection."
Further, Democrats noted that the GOP in 2012 created a brand new, 63rd district running from western Albany County to the Catskill Mountains that was seen as tailored for a Republican candidate, George Amedore, who eventually won it.
"This map is a fix. And when you fix things that are broken, they are going to change," Gianaris said.