hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires




Maps reshape political calculus in N.Y.

New district lines set stage for heated congressional races





The political ground is shifting across eastern New York, thanks to new district maps that were finalized last month for the state’s congressional and legislative seats.

The new maps, required every 10 years because of populations shifts revealed by the U.S. census, will mean some surprises for voters, many of whom will find themselves thrown into new districts – with new representatives -- in the U.S. House as well as the state Senate and Assembly.

The maps also mean big changes from some politicians around the region, some of whom will have to campaign in November in newly drawn districts where they’ll be unfamiliar to many voters.

As the details of the new maps emerged over the past couple of months, two area Assembly members – Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, and Joel Miller, R-Poughkeepsie – announced plans to retire.

The retirements and the newly configured districts could set the stage for some unusually competitive election contests this year as potential candidates take stock of the reshaped political terrain in the weeks ahead.

Here is a rundown of how the maps have changed and the fallout so far.

Gibson moves south, west

Freshman U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, could be in for a difficult re-election campaign after his district was reconfigured and merged with portions of a district long represented by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Saugerties, who is retiring.

The newly drawn 19th Congressional District, where Gibson is the only incumbent, retains Columbia and Greene counties as well as portions of Dutchess and Rensselaer counties where the congressman is familiar and fared well in his first bid for office in 2010. Gibson’s old district also included portions of Delaware and Otsego counties, and his new district will expand to include all of those counties as well as Schoharie County, all of which lean Republican, plus a few towns in Broome County.

But Gibson’s district will no longer include Warren, Washington, Saratoga and Essex counties, all of which are heavily Republican. Instead, the new district will stretch southwest to encompass Ulster and Sullivan counties, both of which are predominately Democratic. Ulster and Sullivan also will be among the three most populous counties in Gibson’s new district.

A federal court imposed New York’s new congressional map after leaders of the state Senate and Assembly were unable to agree on how to reconfigure the district lines. The state is losing two House seats, reducing its total number of congressional districts from 29 to 27.

As of late March, the state Board of Elections had yet to compile party enrollment statistics for the new districts.

But The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter that rates the competitiveness of congressional races, earlier this year ranked Gibson’s seat as likely to remain in Republican hands. After the new district lines became clear last month, however, the newsletter changed its ranking for Gibson’s re-election prospects to a tossup.

Only one Democrat – Joel Tyner, a Dutchess County legislator – has so far announced plans to challenge Gibson, but more could emerge in the weeks ahead. A panel of federal judges imposed the new U.S. House map on March 19, one day before the first day for candidates to obtain petitions for a congressional primaries scheduled for June.

Hot race in the north

Another incumbent congressman who could be facing a tough re-election contest is Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, whose North Country district has been extended southward to include Warren, Washington and northern Saratoga counties.

Owens, a lawyer and former Air Force captain who first won his seat in a special election in 2009, was elected to his first full term in 2010. He is the first Democrat elected to represent New York’s northernmost congressional district in more than 100 years.

But in both 2009 and 2010, Owens prevailed over a divided opposition, as he faced separate candidates on the Republican and Conservative ballot lines. He won with a plurality of 49 percent of the vote in his first race and 47.5 percent in 2010.

Owens’ old district had nearly 43,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats, and the new 21st Congressional District, in which he’s the only incumbent, appears to tilt even further to the GOP. The district stretches across 12 northern New York counties from Lake Champlain to Lake Ontario.

Matthew Doheny, an investment fund manager who lives in Watertown and garnered 46 percent of the vote as the Republican candidate in 2010, has already announced plans to try again. This time, he hopes to have the backing of the Conservative Party as well.

A third congressional district will now become a factor in the region as well.

Although northern Saratoga County is now included in Owens’ district, the southern portion of the county, including the city of Saratoga Springs, is now included in the Albany-area district of Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam. The inclusion of Saratoga County adds a cache of Republican votes, but the new 20th Congressional District will remain heavily Democratic overall. Bob Dieterich, an executive at the First National Bank of Scotia, has announced his intention to run as a Republican challenger to Tonko.

Shifting Senate boundaries

Under the new map for the state Senate, a pair of senators who bucked their party last year to support the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York have had their districts dramatically redrawn.

Sens. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, and Steve Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, both have been under fire from state Conservative Party, which supported them in previous election cycles, over their votes on the marriage issue. Their newly drawn districts appear to remain hospitable to Republican candidates, but both men will be introducing themselves to a substantial number of new voters.

Saland will see Columbia County removed from his district, which will instead stretch southward from Dutchess into Putnam County.

McDonald, whose old district covered all of Rensselaer County plus Saratoga Springs and nine other communities in Saratoga County, will have all of Columbia County added to his district. He’ll also gain the towns of Easton and Cambridge in Washington County, as well as the Saratoga County towns of Wilton and Greenfield. But he’ll no longer represent the cities of Rensselaer and Troy, nor the Saratoga County towns of Clifton Park, Malta and Milton.

Following what has become a long tradition in Albany, the new Senate and Assembly districts were drawn under the supervision of state legislative leaders, with the majority party in each house – Republicans in the Senate, Democrats in the Assembly – controlling the boundaries for their respective chambers.

Despite pledges from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and many legislators in both parties to support a nonpartisan redistricting process this year, the governor and legislative leaders ultimately stuck with the old model, promising instead to back a constitutional amendment that would reform the process after the next census – in 2022.

In the Senate, the new maps backed by Republican leaders will create a new seat, increasing the number of state senators from 62 to 63. As a result, the number of constituents in each of the newly drawn Senate districts is somewhat smaller than in the old districts.

Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, will see comparatively minor changes to her district, which will still stretch from Warren and Washington counties to the Canadian border. She’ll lose Hamilton County and the towns of Easton and Cambridge in Washington County, but she’ll gain six towns in St. Lawrence County.

Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, will lose the Montgomery County and the towns of Wilton and Greenfield in Saratoga County, but he’ll gain Clifton Park, Malta, Milton, all of Hamilton County and six towns in northern Herkimer County.

Assembly map scrambles counties

The new map for the state Assembly splits Washington County among three districts while also reshuffling portions of Rensselaer and Columbia counties.

Washington County until now had fallen entirely within the district of Assemblyman Tony Jordan, R-Jackson, who also covers eastern Rensselaer County and five towns in Saratoga County. Jordan’s new district pushes farther into Saratoga County, taking in Saratoga Springs and Moreau, but he’ll no longer represent Rensselaer County. In Washington County, he retains only his hometown plus Salem, Easton, Greenwich, Argyle, Fort Edward, Hartford and Kingsbury.

Washington County from Hebron northward will become part of the new 114th Assembly District, which also includes all of Warren and Essex counties and four towns in northwestern Saratoga County. With the retirement of Sayward, who would have been the only incumbent in this district, several Republicans are already jockeying for the seat, among them Queensbury Supervisor Dan Stec and former Glens Falls Mayor Robert Regan.

The new 107th Assembly District would encompass all of Rensselaer County except the city of Rensselaer, part of Troy and the town of North Greenbush; the 107th would also take in the Washington County towns of Cambridge and White Creek and the Columbia County towns of New Lebanon, Chatham, Canaan, Kinderhook, Austerlitz and Hillsdale. Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, R-Schaghticoke, is the only incumbent in the district.

The new 106th Assembly District in Columbia and Dutchess counties would apparently have no incumbent. The district includes the city of Hudson and the Columbia County towns of Greenport, Ghent, Claverack, Clermont, Germantown, Livingston, Taghkanic, Gallatin, Copake and Ancram, as well as nine towns in Dutchess County. The 106th is an amalgam of areas represented by Assemblyman Joel Miller, R-Poughkeepsie, who is retiring, and former Assemblyman Marc Molinaro, R-Red Hook, who resigned after being elected Dutchess County executive in November.

Last month, a special election to fill Molinaro’s old Assembly seat ended in a cliffhanger, with Democrat Didi Barrett narrowly leading GOP candidate Richard Wager. The outcome will be decided by absentee ballots that hadn’t been counted by the end of March. But both Barrett and Wager live in Millbrook, which isn’t included in the new 106th district.

Two towns in Columbia County – Stockport and Stuyvesant – have been tossed into the new 102nd Assembly District, an otherwise west-of-the-Hudson district where the incumbent is Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie.

Maps of New York’s new Senate and Assembly districts may be viewed at www.latfor.ny.us/maps.





Your Ad could be Here