The new map for congressional districts in New York represents a fairly substantial shakeup of the local Jewish political map, which will put some members’ outreach and coalition-building skills to the test.
For example, Rep. Edolphus Towns will likely need a Russian-speaking liaison to reach out to what he hopes will be new constituents in Brighton Beach, who are currently in Jerrold Nadler’s district.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez may need a crash course on the warring factions of the Satmar chasidic sect in Williamsburg: They’re in the district where she’ll seek re-election in the fall.
Rep. Nita Lowey, who knows Westchester like the back of her hand, will need to start spending some time in Monsey and New Square, now that she has picked up Rockland County from neighbor Eliot Engel. His district now includes just half his current constituents, mostly in Westchester and Co-op City in the Bronx.
Queens-based Rep. Gregory Meeks will pick up more Long Island turf if he is re-elected, including one of the Five Towns, Inwood, and Valley Stream. He’ll also get the Rockaways from Turner’s 9th. The other four towns (Woodmere, Cedarhurst, Lawrence and Hewlett) stay in the district now represented by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy.
Other Long Island districts are largely unchanged, including those now represented by Democrats Steve Israel and Tim Bishop in Suffolk. Keeping the same district lines makes it easier for Republican Randy Altshuler, who narrowly lost to Bishop in 2010, to mount another challenge.
It’s all part of the map created by federal court-appointed magistrate Roanne Mann, which a panel of federal judges on March 19 ordered the state to adopt.
But when the dust settles, overall voting strength in the Jewish community should be maintained.
“Some of the incumbents will have to introduce themselves to new neighbors,” said Democrat consultant Michael Tobman. “But it’s a net wash,” as far as Jewish clout is concerned. “The real damage to Jewish voting strength is in the [new] state Senate lines. The concentration of Brooklyn Jews into one Senate district is very unhealthy. But in the congressional lines it’s not a issue.”
As widely predicted, the existing 9th District in Brooklyn and Queens, vacated by Anthony Weiner last year and one of the most heavily Jewish in the nation, has been eliminated, with portions shifted to the surrounding districts, and leaving freshman Republican Rep. Bob Turner planning a Senate run rather than taking on his neighbors. Much of the Brooklyn end of the current 9th District, spanning from Manhattan Beach northward to Park Slope and Crown Heights, is in the district Rep. Yvette Clarke now hopes to represent, while much of the Queens portion is in the district to be vacated by Rep. Gary Ackerman, who announced last week that he will retire from Congress. Ackerman’s district currently spans from the north shore of Long Island to the north shore of Queens but in the new map now will be primarily in Queens, picking up part of the former Weiner district, including Rego Park and Forest Hills. Census data did not show enough population in Long Island to be represented by more than four members of Congress. Republican Pete King, a strident right-wing Israel supporter, will lose out on some of the North Shore Jewish communities where he might be most popular.
Ackerman reportedly said in a conference call with members of the press that the new district resembled the one he was initially elected to serve in 1992 and that he wasn’t afraid that he would lose. He did not, however, offer another explanation for his exit, other than that he was ready for new endeavors.
That announcement set off a likely primary battle between Queens Assembly members Rory Lancman and Grace Meng, with the winner facing Republican Dan Halloran, now a City Councilman. Lancman had earlier declared a challenge to Turner.
Manhattan’s Carolyn Maloney will now run in three boroughs: her current Upper East Side bailiwick as well as a bigger slice of Queens and a piece of Brooklyn.
Nadler may be one of the biggest winners in the new map process: Though he loses some Jewish voters in the southern part of his Brooklyn turf, he keeps most of his Manhattan base, pushes further north in the West Side and gains a wider swath of central Brooklyn, keeping Borough Park and gaining more of Flatbush in what is likely the nation’s most Jewish district.
Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of Staten Island is another winner; his district will keep all of Staten Island while pushing deeper into Brooklyn, picking up parts of Sheepshead Bay and Midwood, which have more conservative voters.
“I think there is a critical mass of Jews in the Towns district, the Clarke district, the Grimm district and the Velazquez district, as well is in the northern Queens district” that was Ackerman’s, said David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, who has studied the maps and lobbied the court to uphold heavily Jewish districts. While the Williamsburg changes represents a big shift of some 7,000 Jewish voters, he said, the JCRC’s priority was to ensure that the community was not split in half, which would dilute its power.
“Seven thousand voters are important in a low-turnout election,” said Pollock.
“The process of redistricting forces members of Congress to reacquaint themselves with their Jewish communities, and that creates an opportunity for the community to discuss our issues,” he said.
The primary has been moved up from its traditional September date to June 26 in order to ensure that absentee ballots can be counted in time. The general election is Nov. 6.
New York State was required to shed two congressional seats because of a lower census count. In addition to the 9th, the 22nd District in the Hudson Valley, now represented by retiring Democrat Maurice Hinchey, will also be eliminated. The district map takes effect as of the new year.
“It’s a pretty fair map, though some would disagree,” said Democrat political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “It mostly keeps everyone alive. Turner is the one who took a big hit, after what was a substantial victory last year. They had to get rid of one Republican, and Grimm wins because he’s going to be tougher to beat [by a Democrat challenger].”
Tobman, who is working for Meng’s campaign, said Towns and Rep. Charles Rangel have the most to lose from the new lines. Towns faces a challenge from Brooklyn Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, while Rangel’s district now includes more Hispanic voters, leaving the veteran congressman who has been scarred by ethics violations vulnerable.
“The lines were rewritten to support Jeffries’ candidacy” after an earlier map excluded his Assembly district, said Tobman. “He has a citywide profile.” Rangel, he said, “is uniquely identified with African-American Harlem.”
Valezquez, too, he said, could be vulnerable to a challenge by Councilman Erik Martin Dilan of Bushwick, who is a close ally of Brooklyn Democratic chairman Vito Lopez.
Voters in central Brooklyn’s 27th Senate District took to the polls on March 20 to pick a new legislator. But it may be some time before they know the outcome. Only about 120 votes separate the two candidates in the machine count, with Republican David Storobin leading Democrat Lew Fidler.
But there are as many 2,000 absentee ballots that can’t be counted yet: The Board of Elections must rule on the validity of each before they can be tallied.
“We’re committed to making sure that ever vote is counted as soon as possible,” said Fidler campaign manager Kalman Yeger. “It’s a very arduous process.”
Attempts to reach Storobin’s campaign were unsuccessful.
Fidler is a City Councilman. Storobin is a lawyer in private practice making his first run for public office,
The campaign mimicked in some ways last year’s turbulent race to succeed Weiner in Congress, with Orthodox rabbis urging a vote for the Republican as a protest against the marriage equality law passed in New York. A mass e-mail sent by a group called Torah Values Defense, Inc., declares, “We need a senator who supports Torah values,” calling for a Storobin vote. It was signed by 42 rabbis. The e-mail also criticizes Councilman David Greenfield, who is Orthodox, for supporting Fidler.
The ad mentioned several interpretations of legislation that Fidler supported that the rabbis consider to be pro-gay.
According to the blog Yeshiva World News, four rabbis who had been touted as supporting Storobin have declared that they did not authorize the use of their names.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand cited last week’s terror attack against a French Jewish school in calling for more funding for strengthening potential targets in the United States.
She wants the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee leaders to designate at least $19 million for the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) nonprofit program in next year’s budget, up from this year’s $10 million.
“The horrific attack against a Jewish school in France last week is a stark reminder of the threats that such organizations continue to face here in the United States,” Gillibrand wrote to Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security Chair Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Ranking Member Dan Coats of Indiana. “In my own state of New York, there have been instances of attempted terror plots against synagogues and Jewish organizations … The FY2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act did not include a designated funding level for nonprofit security grants, and Congress must ensure that this grant program is well funded. Therefore, I strongly urge you to restore this funding to at least the Fiscal Year 2010 level of $19 million.”