Splitting the State

With a census every ten years comes potential new Congressional districts in each state; 2020 was the year of counting the U.S. population, as required by the U.S. Constitution.  Redistricting a state carves out Congressional districts that need to have, roughly, an equal population. In theory, states would be divided into a grid-like formation for borders to be continuous, but the manipulation of boundaries of a district to favor a particular group–a practice known as gerrymandering–frequently occurs as political parties seek to consolidate electoral power and create solidly red or blue districts. “Cracking,” which is the breaking up of districts to make them weaker by separating voters, and “packing,” which is putting as many voters into a district to make them lose elsewhere, are two main tactics of gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is illegal if districts are divided up based on the race of the people who live in said state. 

Before the 2020 census, New York had 27 districts, but the census revealed that New York State’s population fell 89 people short of maintaining this number, thus districts had to be redrawn. New York’s Governor Kathy Hochul signed New York’s Congressional map into law on February 3rd, it will go into effect with the November elections for the 118th Congress, to be seated in 2023. This map was designed to give Democrats a large advantage in Congress by getting rid of three Republican congressional seats. 

Yes, this is legal as it does not favor one race over another, but that does not mean it is logical–or that it is fair or good for the people who live in the district. The change from 27 to 26 districts will  affect all towns in New York, as district boundaries shift, but it will affect Westchester County more specifically. There are many towns in Westchester that have complained about this new drawing. “[Citizens] felt that the proposed dividing line…broke up communities of shared interests with neighboring sections…” said author of The Hudson Independent, Barrett Seaman. As towns are being separated and placed into new districts, they are losing the connection of other towns who have the same or similar needs. For example, of­fi­cials rep­re­sent­ing com­mu­ni­ties in the far north­east­ern part of the county, in­clud­ing Bed­ford, South Salem, Lewis­boro and Ka­tonah, com­plained that the com­mis­sion’s ren­der­ing of dis­trict lines in their cor­ner of the county ig­nored not only the “shared in­ter­ests” of peo­ple in a largely rural area, but also many of the shared ser­vices among mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that would be dis­rupted (Barrett Seaman). 

Separating towns that have similar needs among different Congressional representatives will ultimately make the job of these representatives harder. As Congresspeople do all they can to make their districts happy, it would be easier for a representative to act on behalf of constituents with shared interests, rather than have multiple representatives asked to do the same thing. Rye Brook was previously part of New York’s 17th Congressional District with Mondaire Jones as the Congressional representative. This district included Norwood, Riverdale, Wakefield, Williambridge, Woodlawn, in the Bronx, Mount Vernon, parts of Yonkers, Port Chester and Rye Brook in Westchester, and Monsey, Nanuet, Pearl River, Orangetown, Sparkill, Spring Valley, Haverstraw, and Suffern in Rockland County. As a result of redistricting, however, Rye Brook is now in New York’s 3rd Congressional District, currently represented by Tom Suozzi. This newly created district expands from Suffolk County, around the Long Island Sound waterfront in Brooklyn and Queens, then all the way into southern Westchester County to where New York and Connecticut meet. A new Congressperson for the 3rd District will be elected in November. The proposed redistricting can be seen in the map below. 

Does it make sense that Rye Brook will now be placed in the same districts as municipalities in Long Island, given that Rye Brook and other Westchester towns may have different needs specific to their location? In an interview, Paul Rosenberg, the Mayor of Rye Brook, was asked about his point of view on the new redistricting map. He responded: 

“…How could [it] be expected to equally represent us in a way that we expect to be represented while representing people who have different needs, whether it’s socioeconomic, or healthcare, or medical or infrastructure? I mean, there’s so many different needs, and I’m not saying that our needs are diametrically opposed…but it’s physically impossible…to be able to represent us fairly and have to represent people in a completely different county that is much more rural that we are [in] the South Shore community.” 

Mayor Rosenberg, like many other town officials, has been worried about the new congressional districts. Dividing up towns to make a state lean towards one party over another to have political dominance in Congress, can hurt the people more than help. When redistricting occurs, it is very likely for towns that were previously together to be separated. Luckily, Rye Brook was not separated from Port Chester or the Town of Rye. The majority of citizens want to feel that their concerns are being addressed by political leaders. It is challenging to make sure that all voices are being heard because of gerrymandering, when new district lines are changed greatly. The most desirable outcome of the new congressional map is for the citizens of New York to be content and to feel that their best interests are being represented. With the new redistricting, this feeling of satisfaction is in jeopardy.