When the newly proposed congressional lines for New York’s redistricting were released this week, they inspired hope, fear, and … nostalgia.
Some of the biggest changes contemplated in the plan were also on the table in 2012, particularly in regard to the 1st District.
Had they been enacted, Tim Bishop might never have lost. Pete King could have timed his retirement differently. And Lee Zeldin might still toil in the State Senate, only dreaming of a gubernatorial run.
The new rendering of the 1st District adds largely Democratic parts of the towns of Islip and Brookhaven along the central spine of the Island, all the way past the Nassau County line. And it would give up highly Republican areas on the South Shore to the 2nd District.
This could make incumbent Republican Andrew Garbarino’s CD2 seat a safe one, and make the Democratic nominee in the 1st a favorite now that GOP incumbent Lee Zeldin has decided against another term in order to run for governor.
But the existing lines nearly never happened.
"I was supposed to have nothing to worry about," former Rep. Peter King told The Point of the 2012 process. "We had maps that I and Steve [Israel], Carolyn [McCarthy] and Tim [Bishop] were all happy with."
But as King remembers it, Charlie Rangel’s anger with the way his Harlem-based, super-safe seat — from which he’d planned to retire soon — was being redrawn in that statewide plan kindled a fight between Dominican, Puerto Rican and Black NYC powers looking to control the seat once Rangel retired. That led then-Assembly Speaker Shelley Silver to oppose the deal.
Israel remembers the Rangel controversy well, and agrees that Silver had a bone to pick, but feels in the end it was more former Gov. Andrew Cuomo who squashed the plan.
"When I asked him to step in and deal with this, Cuomo asked, ‘On what basis should I, as governor, interfere with this congressional redistricting process,' " Israel said. "And he said Silver had problems, and Silver blamed Cuomo, and it got thrown to the courts."
Bishop, who survived the changes in 2012 but succumbed to Zeldin in 2014, said Monday, "The intent then was similar to what it is today: Make the 1st safe for Democrats, and the 3rd and 4th strong for Democrats, too, in exchange for making the 2nd quite red."
And Zeldin, who lost to Bishop under the old lines in 2008 before beating him in 2014 with the new ones?
"They are saying the new lines create a 1st District that Biden carried by 11 points," Zeldin said. "But that’s on the basis of how those people felt and voted in November 2020. If you look at how they felt and voted a year later, in November 2021, that’s a very different story."
Zeldin said that while he knew redistricting could change his race, it did not have any bearing on his decision to leave the House. He also says he has no doubt he could win the 1st under the new lines. And he believes the eventual Republican nominee for his seat will have a much better chance than the Democrats drawing the lines might believe.